You rang M’Lord: The interview –
The ward was quiet and most patients were in bed or watching TV in the lounge. After a very busy shift, Melanie and I were waiting for the night-staff to arrive.
“God I can’t believe I’ve just done that, it all got a bit serious in the end and he asked for my name and number in case they call me for interview…”
Melanie laughed until she cried. “I don’t know how you dare Ian, what did he say, what did he say?”
I stood in giddy disbelief and recounted my phone conversation with the Viscount. “I had to tell the truth in the end but I think he was impressed by my last-minute confession and sheer balls”.
It had all started rather innocuously, our shift at the hospital was coming to an end, most patients were in bed or watching TV and Melanie and I were catching up with the daily newspapers and scanning the job ads in the situation vacant section of the Yorkshire Post. We often fantasised about working somewhere else, somewhere more glamorous, doing something more adventurous and exciting.
I spotted a particular ad, it stood out from the rest as it wasn’t often you saw the words Viscount and Viscountess peering out of the classifieds; tucked between adverts for a sales assistant to the top and a toilet cleaner to the bottom.
“Here’s one, the Viscount and Viscountess require a chef and house keeper, I could do that,” I proclaimed.
“Ring them,” squealed Melanie, “go on ring them now, I dare you.”
Never one to shy away from a challenge I went to the payphone on the corridor, in 1973, payphones were everywhere. I rang the number only to be taken aback a little when a deep, precise and not unpleasant voice answered. I don’t know what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t “Hello, Lord Mountgarret speaking.”
“Oh hello,” I calmly responded. “I’m telephoning about the job advertised in the paper.” By this time Melanie and I were doing a Paso Doble with the telephone cable from the payphone. As I tried to listen I was twisting and turning away from her as she tried to listen in. I was trying not to laugh, hear all that was being said and respond appropriately. The adrenaline was now pumping.
The conversation seemed to last absolutely ages and I was getting myself into deeper water with every little white lie I told and every kitchen experience exaggerated for dramatic effect. What started of as a giggle had now turned serious and his Lordship wanted my details just in case I was to be offered an interview. I obliged, offered a last-minute confession by saying that I had never cooked professionally but I was confident that I could cook well.
“I was brought up in a household where good food and cooking came naturally. I am quite a good cook despite my lack of formal training,” I bleated.
I said my thank you’s and goodbye’s, put the phone down and collapsed into heaps of adrenaline filled laughter. After all, applying for a job as a chef and house keeper when you’ve only ever cooked for family and friends, what a cheek and, I’m a vegetarian.
In a moment of fanciful day-dreaming I said to myself “Just imagine if they call me for interview. Nah, it’ll never happen.”
Melanie and I acted out various scenarios as we finished our shift; posh accents, serving each other tea on trays and calling each other my lord and my lady. The only Lords and Ladies I had previously encountered were on BBC dramas or in historical novels so our perception of how they acted albeit naive, was understandable on reflection.
This story would live on, of that was no doubt. Needless to say the story was told, re-told and re-told again for several days especially in the shared house where I lived with seven other friends. Then other events happened and it all faded into a happy memory until…
Several weeks had passed and I was visiting my parents for a short break. I hadn’t told my Mum and Dad about my dalliance with his Lordship as it was probably the sort of thing they would disapprove of; wasting someone’s time for a bit of high-spirited fun. Needless to say, that was about to change. The telephone rang and my Mum answered.
“It’s someone call Lord Mountgarret, for you,” uttered my mum disbelievingly as she passed me the phone. She had that half-closed squinting-eyed look on her face that said “Nothing surprises me any more.”
“It’ll be one of the lads from the house messing about,” I retorted and also believed to be the case, it was just the sort of prank we subjected each other to and Lord Mountgarret didn’t have my parent’s telephone number.
“Hello,” I proclaimed somewhat lyrically.
“Hello, this is Lord Mountgarret here,” came the deep dulcet tones from the telephone.
“Well hello Lord Mountgarret, how are you today up there on the estate?” I enquired as I tried to work out which of my mates it was.
“Lady Mountgarret and I are very well thank you and we would like to invite you for an interview on Monday at 10.30am,” replied Lord whoever… Still couldn’t quite make it out.
“Oh that’d be absolutely marvellous,” I replied.
“Do you know where we are? We’re just offthe main road outside of the village. You’ll see a white lodge and large wrought iron gates with a sign for Stainforth House, head down the drive and park on the gravelled courtyard at the rear of the house. We’ll pay expenses and we’ll need the names of two people we can contact for references should you be offered the position,” his Lordship instructed.
My mind replayed the stories of the phone call at lightning speed. I had never knowingly mentioned the name of the house, it had appeared in the advert but I never used it in my tale-telling. My heart began pounding, I started sweating and my mind was racing.
“How did you find me on this number Lord Mountgarret?” I enquired. Depending on his response, I was in trouble or had been well and truly duped.
“I telephoned you on the number you provided and had a very silly conversation with someone called Dave who eventually gave me your parents telephone number,” he replied.
I could picture the scenario, Dave answering the phone to Lord Mountgarret, thinking it was me messing around and being in the exact same situation as I had just found myself in except Dave was outrageously and wondrously camp and was never short of a quick quip or cutting comment. I gulped.
“Oh I see,” I confessed.
My embarrassment and guilt made me crumble and completely forget that I never seriously wanted the job as I had only just qualified in nursing. I humbly agreed to go for the interview, thanked him profusely and bid him good-day.
At this point in the proceedings I’d like to point out that my only reference points for Viscounts, Viscountesses, Lords, Ladies and Stately Homes had been historical costume dramas, upstairs and downstairs and theatre-based comedy farce.
In my defence, the tweed suit, two-tone spat shoes, bow-tie and parting were a little over the top but I thought I looked the part. The flamboyant outfit must have signalled to her Ladyship that if I had enough confidence to wear such an outfit, then confidence and creativity in the kitchen would be second-nature, inspired.
The day of the interview came around exceedingly quick. It came too quick to have second-thoughts and too soon to convince myself that I stood a chance of getting the job. It was a day-out, an experience and a challenge. My friend John agreed to accompany me. John was great fun in a carefree sort of way; he rarely took life seriously. We joked and fantasized about living like royalty all the way there in my clapped out Austin A40.
We eventually came to the village, calmed down into serious mode and watched out for the Lodge house and sign. We didn’t have Google Earth in 1978. We drove and drove on.
“Damn, I’ve missed it.”
“Bloody hell did you see the size of that house?” John asked.
We collapsed into fits of nonsensical babble, found somewhere to turn around and made our way down the long driveway to the house.
The crunch of the gravel signalled our arrival. A tall, broad, smartly dressed gentleman appeared in a small porch at the rear of the house.
“Bloody hell they’ve got a butler,” exclaimed John.
“Bloody hell.” I muttered as I made my way towards the house.
It turned out it wasn’t the butler, they didn’t have one. It was Lord Mountgarret himself. The interview was more of a cosy chat in a rather grand lounge. I learnt later was the drawing-room.
Lady Mountgarret welcomed me to Stainforth House and asked me to talk a little about my background and experience to date. I chatted freely despite my apprehension and nerves. I couldn’t help but notice how Lady Mountgarret sat perfectly poised on the edge of the deep heavily patterned sofa, her legs crossed at the ankle just like you see on TV.
Lord Mountgarret talked about their routine, “breakfast is a family affair but we eat lunch at 1.30pm and dinner at 8pm.” I nodded as if to say “that’s fine by me.” He continued telling me about business meetings, the running of the estate and their other properties in London and Scotland.
“Then there are the children of course,” announced Lady Mountgarret. “They are at boarding school but will be here for holidays and some weekends.”
I spotted several photographs staring back at me from the top of a small cabinet and assumed these were their children. “That’s fine,” I replied and smiled.
The interview was more of a friendly chat than anything else. I found out they also had a cleaner and groundsman as well as stable staff but I would be the only one to be living in the house.
They suggested that given my experience, they would also fund college studies for catering, a two-bedroom flat in the west wing of the house and £30 per week. We all seemed to get on well despite our different worlds.
Reading between the lines I suspected that they had previously experienced difficulty with staff and this interview was more about personalities and compatibility than an ability to cook. They seemed eager to please and enthusiastic about my willingness to undertake training.
They asked me to step outside for a moment whilst they had a quick chat. I stood in a large entrance hall with marble floors, a sweeping staircase, a shiny black grand piano and numerous doors leading into further adventures.
I accepted their offer of a job, flat, salary and further training. It seemed the right thing to do in more ways than one.
John and I talked at length on the way home, our chatter fixed on likely rather than unlikely scenarios. How the hell do I tell my parents? Had I just wasted three year’s nurse training? What about leaving my friends? Is an Austin A40 really an appropriate form of transport for the Lord’s chief chef? Which cookbook should I buy? Is Delia really the new goddess of food?
With many adventures yet to come we drifted back to reality and the excitement of the new and the unexpected. The adventure continued and four weeks notice was given…
Footnote: If you want to read more about John click here: People on Platforms