by Helen Férrieux
A Beak at Eton
Hell’s Bells 2: Scandals & skeletons in the cupboard
Hell’s Bells 3: My Cousin Adrian Kaminsky
Hell’s Bells 4: How I Met my Husband
Before being accepted as a member of staff at Eton, Robert was invited to come and have a brief chat with a House Master and then lunch with some junior masters ( to see if he knew how to hold his fork and knife properly…and did he know how to eat peas?)
I wondered what sort of reception I, as an inexperienced 19 year old, would find. How could I give dinner parties when the only dishes I could produce were cheese soufflé and lemon meringue pie?
Mrs. Beeton, MAYDAY!
I was amazed by the kindness of everyone around us: the masters and especially their wives who helped and guided me. These ladies lent me Pyrex dishes and non-stick frying pans since the only household items I had were wedding presents. Mocha sets and Japanese lacquered trays were not exactly an expedient to roasting a chicken.
The boys, in their elegant morning coats, were polite, respectful and friendly.
There was not a smidgen of pretentiousness or arrogance amongst them. They would invite us for tea in their rooms (each pupil had his own room); they would take our dog out for a run and when our son was born they presented him with a teddy bear. They were unassuming with no need to try to impress anyone.
For all that, when someone once asked me “What do these boys do after leaving Eton?” I answered, “Well, one of them became the King of Nepal..*
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were invited to attend a service in College Chapel.
They were seated on a slightly raised dais with Eton masters on 4 or 5 rows of chairs in front of them. Nearer the transept (I think; I’m no expert) wives were positioned in the pews.
At the end of the service, the staff proceeded towards the main entrance, passing the Queen on their left and keeping their eyes respectfully down.
Then the wives rose and walked out in single file, eyes scrutinising the ground.
Bringing up the rear was the youngest spouse. “Do not gape at Her Majesty” I warned myself. But curiosity and temptation drew my avid eyes unwaveringly towards the tiny, chapleted lady.
Unfortunately I have a tendency to walk slightly towards the left.
As I reached the royal pair I collided with the chairs knocking them down at the imperial feet. I think I said “Oh, sorry”.
I admired the royal couple. They saw my trajectory but not a muscle moved in those deadpan faces.
(*Birendra, a small, bespectacled and discreet pupil who was ultimately assassinated by his son.)