Every now and then, I’ll see a story on one of the home-decorating channels about the 13th Lord Pushface, who lives in genteel poverty in Haughty House, a stately 300-room manor in Somethingorothershire.
He inherited the place from the 12th Lord Pushface, who lost all the family’s cash playing craps in Las Vegas in 1973. Lord Willoughby Pushface keeps the place solvent by letting out rooms to tourists and by selling medieval furniture that’s been stored in the attic since the place was last renovated back in 1649.
A tweedy old guy with a walrus mustache, Lord Pushface chuckles when he wonders aloud what his more cash-flush ancestors must think now that he has to mow his own 40-acre lawn. And Stevens, the butler, not only has to answer the door, but fix his own lunch, too. Stevens claims not to mind: He calls it multitasking, and says he’s treated like one of the family.
”Yes, I don’t have any money, either,” he says.
There is no Upstairs-Downstairs anymore at Haughty House; it’s more like Downstairs-Basement. The Persian carpets are patchy and threadbare, the gigantic wall-sized paintings in gilded frames are so covered in soot and dust that it is hard to tell if they are portraits of the 12 previous Ladies Pushface or paintings of the inside of a train tunnel.
To pay to have the leaking roof fixed, Lord Pushface even started letting tourists sleep in the old bedroom belonging to his grandfather, the late Lord Stuffy Pushface. The bed could fit Henry VIII and all his wives at once, with room to spare. The tourists expect Stevens to draw their bath for them; they expect Lord Pushface to sit down to dinner with them in the Great Hall and share gossipy family stories about the many royals who ate in this very room, at this very table, in this very chair -- as if it somehow makes them royalty, too. Oh, the indignity of it all.
When I lived in a studio apartment, I had no sympathy for the Lord Pushfaces of the world. They may not have had money, at least not anymore, but they did have 299 more rooms than I did.
Now that I live in a big, old, creaky house myself, I’m not so arrogant. I’m trying to think of ways to raise money so I can afford to get the roof patched. I’m not positive, but I suspect that we are the only people in our town who have to give an alternate “rain date” when we invite people over for dinner. It’s hard to talk to people over the rain-catching pot on the dining room table. Outside, the paint is peeling in places where it is sunny, and covered with mold in places it isn’t. There are saplings growing in the gutters. I’m sure the neighborhood kids think the Munsters must live here.
The plaster is cracking in the living room, the dining room, the upstairs hall and the guest bedroom. The banister wiggles like a loose tooth. The attic -- well, I’ve never been in the attic, because something up there is making its own noisy renovations. Squirrels, raccoons, birds, a goalie-masked serial killer -- who knows? But I’m not going to be the one to find out.
Everywhere I look, there is something that needs to be fixed, something that needs attention. The windows all need to be replaced, and the plumbing and the wiring both need to be brought up to code. We need a new furnace; we need to call a chimney sweep.
It’s hard to imagine having to worry about 299 more rooms when the few we have are wearing us out. If we could afford a butler, he wouldn’t be answering the door, he’d be patching the roof and cleaning out the gutters.
I’m thinking maybe we should rent the house out to English royalty. They might enjoy the coziness. Lord Pushface might even be our first guest.
(Contact Jim Mullen at firstname.lastname@example.org.)