Monday, August 23, 2010

Meet Lord Whitehouse

Lord Whitehouse of Suckley can trace his ancestry all the way back to his father. This is, of course, a rare attribute among the English aristocracy. The Whitehouse estate, all six hundred acres of it, straddles the border of Herefordshire and Worcestershire and provides him with a panoramic view of both counties. As I walk through the rococo-decorated front entrance, I am ‘welcomed’ by His Lordship’s best friend, a nine-year-old Burnese Mountain Dog (Figure 7.1).

‘He’s a sniffer dog,’ he explains. ‘Crotches, mainly. Especially if they’re sweaty. Never fails to investigate a stranger down at the village pub.’

His local, incidentally, is the Nelson Inn, a mile down the lane at Longley Green, where once he drunkenly introduced himself as: ‘Suckhouse. Lord Suckhouse of Whiteley’.

‘The Nelson is a marvellous watering hole,’ he enthuses, saliva dribbling down his chin. ‘But the lanes are unlit. One has to walk home in complete darkness.’ He leans forward and grins. ‘Arrived home covered in cow dung last week. Took a short cut across the meadow and my flat cap blew orf. Found it all right, but not before I’d tried on a few others.’

The remaining (non-alcoholic) part of his diet consists mainly of scotch eggs and blackberries, most of which he pilfers from the banks of the Severn in Worcester or, failing that, his neighbours’ gardens.

‘Did try one of those Indian curries once,’ he says, recoiling. ‘Damned near burned my mouth.’ His eyes suddenly widen. ‘And, let me tell you, worse was to follow.’ At which point, he laughs so hard that he starts coughing. ‘Digestive system can be somewhat unpredictable at my age. Diarrhoea and so forth. Usually torrential. Sometimes explosive.’ He shakes his head vigorously. ‘Never been one for surprises.’ He laughs again and wags a forefinger. ‘My old underpants are not to be sniffed at.’

‘Who owns the adjacent property?’ I ask him, changing the subject.

‘Ah, just some city lawyer. Lowers the standard somewhat. And knows nothing of country life.’ He reaches for his whisky glass and talks into it. ‘Blithering idiot, he puts manure on his strawberries.’ He lowers the glass and belches. ‘I prefer ice-cream on mine.’

The latest Lady Whitehouse, an Essex blonde twenty years his junior, is oblivious to any of his five previous marriages. A graphic designer, she is equally eccentric in her own way. Her main passion is for cleaning up after horses, and she spends most evenings up to her neck in her work. His Lordship tries manfully to tolerate her singular passion.

‘I don’t object to horses per se, you understand. It’s the manure I find hard to swallow.’

‘I thought you preferred ice-cream,’ I add.

‘Yes. Yes, I do,’ he says, missing the joke. ‘And blackberries to strawberries.’

‘What about booze? Any preferences?’

‘Single malt.’ He leans towards me. ‘After reading about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.’

‘So whisky is the answer, is it?’

‘No, but it certainly helps me to forget the question.’

A surreal hour with one of the guardians of the English countryside comes to an end when his good lady reappears. He winks at her and gestures for her to sit on his knee, thereby confirming his reputation of being eccentric, sociable, accommodating ... and very, very drunk.

Figure 7.1: 'Balti', the resident hound at Four Turrets Manor

Copyright 2010 Paul Spradbery

Copyright 2010 Paul Spradbery

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