Just to let you, know, dear Wordpretzels, the following tale is quite harrowing, but has a fairly positive ending.
It all started just after Christmas, when Lady Barton St Mary and I were discussing the possibility of improving the kitchen used for entertaining guests when Mrs Dallimore is away or Lady BSM wants to show off her culinary skills. The kitchen we possessed came with the house. Being a stately home, it had a certain eccentric charm, by which I mean only 3 rings on the hob worked, the oven light was broken and most of the cupboard doors were wonky.
This conversation was considered as a green light to Lady BSM, who went into action immediately. Before I knew it, I was sitting in a very swanky kitchen showroom being smoozed by a very charming American man, who was telling me all about the benefits of triple ply waterproof bonded cupboard interiors. What a flirt.
Lady BSM surveyed the showroom with the confident look of somebody who’s spent several days researching the internet. The kitchen designer/salesman listened intently before sketching a plan. How would we cope with the very low window cills? Easy. They could build bespoke kitchen units that would work well, but would also cost as much as a small family car. I left the showroom with an uneasy feeling that the charming American kitchen salesman knew where we lived and would stalk us until we relented to his modular system demands. I’ve always feared that showing an intention to spend money to these people is akin to asking a Moonie or Scientologist about their beliefs. Once you do, you’re hooked in for life.
Anyway, charming American man turned up at Randall Towers, measured up, made some more pretty drawings and produced a quote for our new kitchen. The figures swam in front of my eyes. I swallowed something hard and jagged and looked at Lady BSM. She arched an eyebrow.
“Obviously we’ll be looking for all new appliances as well,” she said to American man.
“Obviously,” he grinned.
So the monumental amount of money quoted was only for kitchen units. A collection of wooden boxes. Gulp.
After he left, Lady BSM sat me down and explained that kitchens were very expensive. It had taken me a few years to get over the fact I had installed a beautiful kitchen with a range and granite worktops in our previous home. Six months later, Lady BSM informed me we were moving to our country estate, leaving our beautiful kitchen behind.
However, she had found the perfect kitchen company to build the kitchen of her dreams. A small family run business that made bespoke kitchens. Alan, the owner of said company, was summoned by Lady BSM to demonstrate his skills in designing her kitchen.
Alan arrived. He was a quiet, serious man in his early 40s who seemed very keen on wanting to know ‘what exactly do you want to do in your kitchen?’
As I contemplated saying “Pole vault” or “Skinny dipping,” Lady BSM was off on a description of how she would like to combine modern with classical in an ergonomically acceptable configuration.
“What she said,” I chipped in. He smiled the faintest of smiles and ignored me. He then set about making some sketches based on Lady BSM’s input. She nodded her approval, making the odd comment. After 20 minutes it was done. Result!
Not quite. Lady BSM had other decisions to make, such as the colour of the kitchen units, the type of handles required, appliances including ovens, hobs, dishwashers, fridges, freezers and including the kitchen sink. In the meantime, Alan would draw up some plans and return the following week. More importantly, he left Lady BSM a huge book of paint swatches and catalogues about cupboard handles, as well as a whole library of kitchen appliance information leaflets.
Lady BSM consumed them all with a feverish delight, combining her reading with more intensive internet research. I would wake in the middle of the night to see her little face illuminated by her iphone as she read about the benefits of ATAG over AEG.
Alan returned as promised. I decided to try my best and get involved. 20 minutes in, we had altered his original plans, decided on some new arrangements and everyone seemed happy and smiling. Meeting over, I thought. No.
A 35 minute dissection by Alan of the positive qualities of Grass drawer runners over Blum followed, encouraged by Lady BSM. I went and stoked the fire for a bit of relief.
I returned to find Alan showing her 3 types of door/drawer handle. 40 minutes later, they were still deciding on handles, with Alan producing another 4 brochures. I went and stoked the fire and had a little weep. Lady BSM decided on the first handle shown. For the moment.
Then the question of paint colour was raised. 50 minutes later, I went and stoked the fire before I hurt either myself or somebody else.
This would have been enough, but Lady Barton St Mary moved on to the fascinating matter of kitchen appliances. Alan’s eyes became even more hooded. Alarmingly, I started to feel my internal organs begin to shut down with the tedium. Like a marathon runner nearing the finishing tape in agony, I have very little memory of the rest of the planning meeting.
Over the next few weeks, I saw less and less of Lady Barton St Mary as she locked herself away in the study. I realised she was working on the perfect kitchen plan and left her to it.
Until one evening, when I thought I would give Benfield the night off and deliver Lady BSM’s gin and tonic myself. I opened the door to the study and peered in. There was one dim light in a corner of the room; through the gloom I could see Lady BSM hunkered over her desk, scribbling furiously. This scene would have been worrying enough, but as my eyes scanned the room, I was confronted with a scene reminiscent of one from the film ‘A Beautiful Mind.’
Hundreds of lists and figures on torn sheets of paper, stuck to the walls, lists of kitchen utensils, ovens, hobs, microwaves,food processers; carefully annotated notes on paint colours, granite worktops, drawer runners, cupboard handles, cutlery drawers; swatches of fabric in different hues, stapled together in a plethora of combinations, each coded and given a title.
As I took in the enormity of her obsession, she broke the silence.
“No island, there can be no island,” she muttered.
“Erm, Ok, my lovely,” I said gently. “Here’s your drink.”
She looked at me wild eyed. I placed the drink in front of her. She downed it in one.
“I need to find MORE WORKING AREA!” she yelled.
I backed slowly out of the room.
The next planning meeting took place a little while after this incident. Somehow I managed to leave Lady BSM and Alan to it. Miss Katherine found me in a wardrobe, clutching my knees to my chest and rocking gently. I don’t know how long I’d been there, though was faintly aware of the wailing from the kitchen area. Lady BSM had asked about the respective qualities of different versions of pyrolytic ovens over conventional ovens and it was all too much for Alan.
He did manage another couple of visits, but then had to take some time off for psychiatric treatment. Although it didn’t seem necessary, Alan’s company also decided to ensure he made a full recovery by issuing Lady BSM with a restraining order. Every house member, including staff below stairs, only referred to the situation as ‘The K Word,’ in hushed tones.
However, by June, Alan produced some drawings that Lady BSM found acceptable and he and I had a little hug and weep in the driveway.
And so, eight months after that initial conversation, we have a new kitchen. Lady BSM is very happy, using her lists to organise our new cooking areas.
I decided to step up to the mark and work on the kitchen floor. I spent a couple of weeks sanding the floorboards back to their original condition, before having to lovingly fine sand it by hand. I then applied a solution of Van Dyke crystals, giving a rich, antiqued finish. Once dry, I completed the job with several coats of liquid wax.
When Lady BSM returned from Homesense with new saucepans and kitchen knick knacks, I proudly showed her my completed handiwork.
She paused for a few seconds. I awaited my moment of glory.
“It’s too red,” she said…