It is 8: 46 am, and my day is already shot. Our ancient cat, Hobbes, the cat I've been telling Mr. P is ill and, Mr. P has been telling me I'm imaging things, woke up us by vomiting blood on our bed at 5:03 am. Thankfully, Hobbes, ever thoughtful to the end, did this on Mr. P's side of the bed. Then, after getting the laundry started at 5:15 am, Mr. P and I had to discuss over coffee what to do with Hobbes. And what to do with the children in between Hobbes' latest bouts of vomiting. Slightly distracted by all of the cat hullabaloo, I got Roger Kimball's future daughter-in-law ready for school and wiped all the tears from her face. She was very broken-hearted over Hobbes. We arrived at school on time to see all of the children dressed in playclothes. RKFDIL is the only child out of about 500 children wearing her uniform. Since I didn't want her to receive a tardy, I sent her in to school and raced back home to get her some playclothes. I got home to find Mr. P pulling his magnificent hair out of his head because he had just received an email from his boss that some project at the office has just blown up. He doesn't know when he'll have free time, much less time to help me to take Hobbes for his final car ride to the vet. I raced back to school with the playclothes for RKFDIL and stuck my head ever so slightly into the cafeteria where I was supposed to be in 45 minutes, all kitted out I might add, to assist in serving at the kindergarten graduation party. I see who it is who is setting up the flowers etal and realised right there on the spot, I'm as dead as Hobbes. X's for eyes, four legs up in the air and all that good stuff. The women setting up the reception were women who do not understand things like emotion. Or cat vomit. They understand thank you notes, floral arrangements and the latest fashions. So, I had to make the executive decision to just "forget" to show up at the kindergarten reception and let my airhead reputation carry the day. I dressed RKFDIL in her playclothes and drove home slowly wondering now what the mothers will think of me. So, now that I've ended the school year on such a bang, socially, I might as well tell you the time I really miffed some members of the British aristocracy that had the grave misfortune of crossing my path. Like everything in my life, it all happened a long time ago.
Mr. P's old Latin teacher is very old school. She is a classicist and, naturally an excellent conversationalist. Like the good old teachers of old, each summer she departed for walking tours. In her lifetime she has walked all over the British Isles, most of Europe and parts of Greece. She really wanted Mr. P and I to accompany her on a walking tour. We thought it would be great fun so one winter we settled on a walking tour of the Isle of Arran plus a few days in some of Mr. P's Latin teacher's favorite spots in England the following August into early September.
Unfortunately, some things came up and Mr. P and I were not able to go. Mr. P's Latin teacher was very disappointed but, being the plucky type, she went on with out us. A few days into her walking tour Princess Diana had her great smash-up and was killed in Paris. As Mr. P and I watched the news reels of stiff upper lip England tossing bouquets of flowers anywhere they could, and collectively wailing on the streets of England, we looked at each other and said "Thank God we aren't there." I'd like to think what happened next was that there was a knock at the front door. Upon opening it, we discovered a boy wearing shorts, leaning against a bicycle, and holding a telegram for us. But it didn't happen that way. What happened was that our mailman, Ken, a few days later delivered an express letter from England. It was from Mr. P's old Latin teacher who was still on holiday there. It read:
"As sad as I was to go on this trip without you, as things have turned out, I am very glad you could not come. Mrs. Peperium would not have been able to keep her dislike of the late Princess a secret. Her sentiments would not have been received well. We would have been killed."
Mr. P agreed with his Latin teacher's assessment. I did not. However I was forced to concede they were both right later when we were enjoying a night out as guests of one of the clubs in our hamlet. It was during the Christmas holidays and the mood was rather joyous. It was after a very delicious meal as we were sitting around in the Crow's Nest enjoying after dinner fortified wines and I was trying to get some of the heavy hitters assembled to buy an island so that I would know someone with their own zipcode when I spied the most intriguing couple hoving into view and sitting down with another large party near us. The husband and wife were in their '70's and dressed splendidly in the family tartans. The man even had on my favorite shoes, black patent leather ballet slippers or opera pumps. I asked my most generous hostess if we could invite them to join us in a Christmas drink. She looked at them and said, "By all means." So she and I went over to their table and asked them to join us. They most graciously accepted the invitation.
The lady sat down next to me and her husband sat among the men. After admiring her floor-length family tartan kilt and all of its acoutrements, and discussing which clans we were related to, she and I got into a terrific discussion of old England. But, admittedly, I was not on the ball like I ought to have been that evening, plus the papist within had been developing at a nice clip at this point in my life. Soon the lady was peppering her conversation with mentionings of "the family". She talked of how she had just been to tea with "the family". That she, or he husband, had been longtime country neighbors of "the family" (longtime as in 450 years, or some number remarkably English). "The family" were just the nicest people and "really good neighbors". I didn't have a clue as to who this "family" was. She spoke as if I should knew. I knew it would reveal me to be an ignorant American if I asked "What family?" so I just kept nodding my head and, naturally, sipping my fortified wine. I did want to tell her that in America when people speak like she does about "the family", they usually mean the Gambinos. But I was enough on the ball to know not to bring up America's first mafia families with this lady. Sizing up the faces of the other women at our table, it was easy to tell they were as clueless as to who "this family" was as I. Then, finally the word Sandringham floated out of this woman's mouth rather effortlessly. "Oh you live next to Sandringham. I understand that is quite a beautiful home." I responded mistakenly thinking Sandringham was Princess Diana's childhood home and "the family" she had been speaking of was the Spencer family. The lady was delighted and started telling me about some of its furnishings. "So you must have known Princess Diana, did you?" I asked. The lady sighed and said, "Yes. She was quite beautiful." "I'm Episcopalian. Are you Anglican?" I queried "Oh yes." she replied. "Didn't you think it was perfectly dreadful of Princess Diana to date Muslims? She was married to Prince Charles in a church by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Charles is going to be the next head of the Church of England. Her son, Prince William, is going to be the head of the Church someday too. What was she thinking? You can't do that sort of thing. You just can't." The woman was astonished and said absolutely nothing. No doubt influenced by the steady intake of fortified wine, I misread her reaction as one in sympathy with the sentiments expressed in my questions. I continued on about God not being mocked and Princess Diana was lucky to have only died in a tunnel in Paris...
To make a very ugly story short, all I can say if that lady have been 20 years younger (and boxed while at Oxford), she would have heaved me into the lake. Instead, she summoned her husband in a tone reserved for the servants who have been caught stealing the silver and he stood up immediately. In a grand flourish of tartans, they departed and never looked our way the entire rest of the evening. It was the next day morning that it hit me like a lightning bolt that Sandringham was not Princess Diana's childhood home, it was the Queen's country home. "The family" that the lady had been prattling on about were the Windsors. Instead of being impressed, I was mad. Really mad. If I had understood this when that -cough, cough- lady handed me the aristocratic raspberry, I would have chased her down and made her look at me. Then, when she was looking at me (and probably the rest of the club would have been looking as well and, by then some bright young waiter would have rung up the police station and asked for the paddy wagon to be sent around), I would have told her that she how lucky she was to have her family on the receiving end of the greatest land grab in the history of our world. Since fortune had shone so brightly on her ancestors, it was her duty now to uphold and support the Church of England first, before the claims of some mentally-unbalanced princess who divorced herself from "the family", or "the family" itself. They might have nice sofas and invite her to take tea with them but England will only stand as long as its church stands. Her family helped cut that most corrupt deal. And now it was people like her bringing England down. Hasn't she ever heard of Noblesse Oblige? Or is mastering French beyond her regard too.?
In hindsight, Mr. P said it was easy to see the hand of God was involved that night with my lapse on who was the real owner of Sandringham was.
The express delivery letter from Mr. P's old Latin teacher while still on holiday in England during "Grief Week", the letter that had said I would have gotten her, Mr. P and myself killed if my sentiments on Princess Diana had been expressed aloud during "Grief Week", included a lovely account of a tea she had enjoyed at a popular teashop, Betty's. She had particuarly liked a tea biscuit called a Fat Rascal. She told me the ingredients and hoped I could approximate them for our future teatimes. Even though I've never been to England I knew exactly of what she was speaking. Betty's teashops are all over England as they are owned by the Taylor's of Harrogate tea company. Taylor's of Harrogate is my favorite brand of tea. I had once read up on Taylor's and Betty's and found the recipe for Fat Rascals. As they sounded quite delicious I had saved it. When Mr. P's old Latin teacher returned home, I handed her the recipe. She used to make them all the time. Since her baking days have become more infrequent, I am sending her some Fat Rascals this week. A rascally papist priest I know is also receiving some as, for some reason, he doesn't seem to mind my enormous social gaffes. I suggest you try your hand at Fat Rascals. Not my social gaffes.
Fat Rascals are round domed teacakes with a rich brown crust and made with currants and candied peel. They are closely associated with the Cleveland area on the borders of County Durham and Yorkshire. The origin of the name is unknown, but has been in use since at least the mid-nineteenth century.
50 Gram Lard (2 oz)
50 Gram Butter (2 oz)
350 Gram Plain flour (12 oz)
75 Gram Currants (3 oz)
25 Gram Candied mixed peel (1 oz)
1 Heaped tsp Baking powder
75 Gram Caster sugar (3 oz)
150 ml Whipping cream, slightly soured (5 fl oz)
Rub the fat into flour, add the dry ingredients and mix with the cream to a stiff paste.
Roll out to a 2 cm (3/4 inch) thickness and cut into rounds.
Bake at 220 °C / 425 °F / Gas 7 on a floured baking sheet, for 10-15 minutes.