Friday, November 15, 2013

Tom Tower, the entrance to Christ Church in Oxford
In the palatial deanery, 'Upstairs and Downstairs' in the upper echelons of English society was alive and well. Operating in a less rigid format, sans tweenies, housemaids, footmen, head cook, under-cook and kitchen maids, men of consequence I was to discover, still managed with a butler, a housekeeper and a cleaning lady or two.

And so, with limited experience of the English heirarchical system, a colonial such as I - a Canadian of South African birth - could hardly be blamed for mistaking the impeccably attired handsome Irishman who greeted me at the Deanery door that morning, for being the Dean himself.

Fortunately I didn’t disgrace myself by indicating as much. Instead, I shook the hand of the handsome Irishman and followed him into the hushed confines of what I thought was his study, ready for my interview. Within seconds I realised my mistake. Tom Burke the butler, my greeter at the front door, announced “Mrs. Gordon to see you sir”.

Across from a desk at which the ‘real’ Dean sat, flames flared and crackled in a huge fireplace. Along the mantelpiece, invitations, mostly grand and gold lettered, imparted a sense of the event and the importance of both sender and recipient. The walls of the beautiful room were lined with bookcases from floor to ceiling.

On an elegant polished table beside a wingback chair near the fireplace, a bowl of white daisies and sprigs of late summer lavender brought to mind a still life in oils.

For a brief moment I looked enviously through tall windows at a beautiful English walled garden. It was early fall and the leaves were turning gold. A Horse Chestnut tree with branches propped up with wooden poles dominated the far corner of the garden. I was to learn later that that same Horse Chestnut was the very tree in which the Cheshire Cat from Lewis Carroll's famous childrens classic “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland” sat when talking with Alice.

Dr. Heaton, impressive and tall with a courtly manner, rose and walked towards me with hand outstretched. “Shall we have tea in front of the fire?” What could I say. I was charmed.
More to follow tomorrow...
Photo copyright Anne Gordon
Posted by Anne Gordon on Friday, 15th November, 2013


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