In a parking lot, I try to keep some distance between my car and the one next to me. Not the standard foot or two to prevent another car door from dinging mine. No, I mean a Grand Canyon-esque gulf, as in, “Hey, how’s the weather over there in the mountain time zone?”
I guess I have personal-space issues, because if I lived in Downton Abbey, I’d live downstairs and hang with the help.
The highbrow British soap opera, “Downton Abbey,” is all the rage these days, and my wife, Betty, and I can’t get enough of it. “Grand-mama” this and “her ladyship” that. And how much tweed does one guy need? Closets and closets full, apparently.
But if I close my eyes and imagine myself the lord of a World War I era British mansion ... I’m dressing myself for bed, thanks very much.
Don’t get me wrong. The Crawley clan has it pretty good. Their little country cottage has more rooms than the Smithsonian. Sure, there’s always another looming scandal, like the daughter who eloped with the chauffeur — blimey! — but there’s always food on the table and another dignitary to entertain.
And servants galore, practically Velcro-ed to those they serve.
In one scene, his lordship leads a hunting party in hopes of bagging a few hundred pheasants. At first I thought the entire British Parliament had been invited to the outing, but as the camera moves in, it’s clear that most of the participants are servants, either rustling the tall grass with sticks — can’t just wait for those blasted birds to appear, dear boy — or loading various shotguns for the aristocrats.
One guest, from “new money,” is appalled that he has to load his own gun. But after cursing his wretched luck, a properly humbled servant arrives with just the right amount of ammunition.
Servants dress and undress the Crawley family all day long. The women get their hair braided before retiring for the night.
Want to drive Master Crawley and his valet nuts? Hide his white-tie dinner wear so he’s forced to dress down for the New Year’s Eve festivities. While his lordship had to suffer his mother’s evil glances, he managed to get through the evening in a black-tie ensemble.
Years ago, I received a gift certificate to a high-end Boston restaurant. I love good food, and there was plenty of it that night, but I couldn’t adjust myself in my seat without one waiter or another refilling my water glass or scraping crumbs off the tablecloth. I expect close quarters while riding the subway, but I need some elbowroom to enjoy a meal.
I could get used to breakfast in bed — every morning. And I wouldn’t mind being driven around, because those early 20th century buses didn’t look very comfortable. But if an obedient servant took out his brush to tidy up my jacket before dinner? Nope, that crosses the creepy line. In which case I’d head straight to the lower chamber. Besides, the Crawley servants seem to have much more fun than their masters.
John Edmondson is a teacher in Hampstead.