AS we head for the end of the year, we are re-running our ten most-read blogs of 2020, in reverse order. Today’s article, in second place, was first published on March 29, 2020.
Scene 1: The entrance hall. Lord Grantham stands with Isis the dog.
‘GOOD morning, milord.’
– ‘Good morning, Carson. I’m off for my constitutional before breakfast. Ah, is that the telephone ringing?’
‘Yes, milord, let me answer it . . . It’s Dr Clarkson. He says he needs to speak to you urgently.’
– ‘Hello, Clarkson, Lord Grantham here. What’s that you’re saying? We can’t leave the house? Chinese virus? Dammit man, we’ve got the village show and garden party this afternoon. I’ll have to call it off? Very well. Goodbye.’
‘Bad news, milord?’
– ‘I’m afraid so, Carson. It seems there’s a bug going round and to stop it spreading we have to confine ourselves indoors for three weeks.’
‘That is, ahem, somewhat inconvenient, milord. I shall inform the household.’
Scene 2: Lady Mary’s bedroom: Anna the maid is in attendance.
‘What did you say, Anna, we can’t leave the house? Oh, that’s such a bind!’
– ‘It’s only temporary, Lady Mary.’
‘I know, Anna. But the thing is, I’ve got a dead Turkish lover in my bed – he had a heart attack, I think – and I was going to drag him outside and dump him in the ornamental pond. What am I to do now?’
– ‘Well, Lady Mary, your shoes for the new season haven’t been delivered yet, so the bottom of your wardrobe is empty. We could stuff him in there until the quarantine ends.’
‘Good idea, Anna. Let’s do that. Then can you do something with my hair? It’s awfully flyaway this morning.’
– ‘I’ll brush in some aromatic tree gum and rose oil, milady. It’s ever so fragrant. And if the Turk’s going to be there for three weeks, we’d best put some in the wardrobe as well.’
Scene 3: The kitchen: Mrs Patmore the cook scolds Daisy the skivvy.
‘Confined to the house? Whatever are you wittering about, Daisy, you silly girl? Keep stirring that gravy, it’s going lumpy!’
– ‘It’s true, Mrs Patmore. Mr Carson says we’ve got to stay indoors for three weeks. It won’t bother me, because I’m always stuck in this kitchen. Here comes that lovely Thomas, the under-butler, he’ll confirm it.’
‘Daisy’s right, Mrs Patmore, we’re being quarantined.’
– ‘But what about today’s garden party? I’ve made a mountain of cucumber sandwiches, poached salmon, parsley potatoes, game terrine, fruit jelly, scones and apple tart. What’ll I do with it all?’
‘We could it eat it ourselves, Mrs Patmore. I love apple tart.’
– ‘Don’t get ideas above your station, Thomas Barrow. Apple tart for a servant indeed! Anyhow, I’ve heard fairy cake is more to your taste.’
‘Oh, that’s hurtful, Mrs Patmore. Still, if we run short of food when we’re quarantined, we’ve always got you here.’
– ‘You mean my cooking skills will see us through? Why, that’s nice of you to say.’
‘No, I mean we could eat you. There’s enough bulk there to keep the household going for three weeks.’
– ‘You cheeky young devil! Get out of my kitchen before I mangle your vol-au-vents with my whisk!’
Scene 4: The garage: Tom Branson the Irish chauffeur greets Lady Sybil.
‘Ah, top of de mornin’ to yer, Lady Sybil. Noice to see you here in me workshop, to be sure.’
– ‘Good morning, Branson. Are you taking me for a driving lesson in the Bentley, as we arranged?’
‘Sorry, milady, oi’m afraid we’ve been ordered to stay insoide fer tree weeks.’
– ‘Oh, Tom darling, let’s stop this silly formal talk. I was so looking forward to having a ride with you.’
‘Sorry, Sybil, me secret aristocratic sweetheart. But you can help me do a service instead. Now come over here and oi’ll show you how me clutch works.’
– ‘Oh, Tom, you saucy thing! No wonder I love you despite you being working class, Irish and smelling of used sump oil.’
Scene 5: The library: Lord Grantham is disturbed as he reads his freshly-ironed copy of The Times.
‘What’s that commotion outside, Carson?’
– ‘Why, milord, it is your mother Lady Violet, the Dowager Countess. She has just arrived in her Rolls-Royce and is arguing with Lady Grantham.’
‘But I telephoned mother earlier telling her to confine herself to the dower house. What is she doing here? Ah, there you are, mother dear . . . ’
– ‘Now then, Robert, what is all this nonsense about cancelling the garden party and confining us at home for three weeks? Have you turned into a Communist?’
‘No, mother dear. Dr Clarkson has warned us that a deadly virus is on the loose.’
– ‘Virus? Nonsense! I think this is a conspiracy to stop me receiving the Best Bloom prize at the Downton Village flower show.’
‘But mother, if we go out, we will have to stay six feet away from people and wear gloves and a mask.’
– ‘I do that as a matter of course when consorting with the lower orders. That’s settled, then. The garden party will not be cancelled.’
Scene 6: The lawn: Hundreds of villagers mill round.
‘My God, Lord Grantham, you’ve defied my quarantine advice and gone ahead with the garden party.’
– ‘Can you speak up, Dr Clarkson? I can hardly hear you through that diver’s helmet you’re wearing.’
‘All these people are crowded together. They’re sure to spread the infection. Look, one of them has already keeled over.’
– ‘That’s not the virus, doctor. That’s just old Jake Cludgeon judging the home-made food and drink. He’s on his third bottle of elderflower wine.’
‘Well, I’m not happy, Lord Grantham. Ah, here comes the Dowager Countess. Surely you don’t condone this gathering, milady? Aren’t you worried the Chinese virus will infect you?’
– ‘Chinese, you say? You forget, doctor, that my late husband and I were in Peking during the Boxer Rising in 1900. I shot two of the rebels myself. So a tiny Chinese bug doesn’t bother me. Now come along, the judging for the Best Bloom will be starting.’
Scene 7: The village hall: Judgment Day.
‘This is madness, Lord Grantham – people are terribly crowded together in here.’
– ‘I know, doctor, but we’ve got to go through with it. The Dowager Duchess always wins the Best Bloom prize, even though old Bill Molesley’s flowers are miles better. It’s something of a tradition.’
‘I see. Wait there, your lordship. I have an idea.’
– ‘Ah, mother dear, there you are. Sit here beside me.’
‘Thank you, Robert. This will be the 30th year in succession that I’ve won the prize, you know. Ah, there’s the announcement now.’
– ‘And the winner is . . . Bill Molesley!’
‘Mother! Sit down!’
– ‘No, Robert, I won’t! This is outrageous! I should have won! As president of the Downton Horticultural Society, I declare the result null and void because of the medical emergency! Clear the hall! Clear the garden party! Clear the village! Everyone go back to their homes! Stay indoors for three weeks! Come along, Robert – back to Downton Abbey!’
‘Won’t be a moment, mother. I just want to speak to Dr Clarkson over there. How did you do it, doctor? It was a brilliant way of clearing everyone out.’
– ‘It was simple, really, Lord Grantham. I just swapped the prize cards and did a bit of crossing-out and rewriting. I knew the Dowager Countess would react by chasing everyone home. By the way, she’s missed out on Best Bloom, but she’s won Most Magnificent Mangel-Wurzel.’
‘Hmm. I’m sure that will be a great consolation to us all over the next three weeks. Good God, three weeks stuck indoors with mother holding court and ruling the roost. Tell me, doctor, just how bad is catching the virus?’