What I am about to share may be viewed by some to be elitist, snobbish, or other such reflection – or even plain wrong.
From my perspective, this was a moment to cherish.
Sitting beside the fire in the bar of the Victorian mansion in which I am spending a week over the new year break, I was curled up doing research, and relatively oblivious to the rest of the world.
I also enjoyed a late lunch/early dinner of a delicious bowl of soup, and a couple of glasses of wine – and by this stage, had put away my research and was content to simply be absorbed by the beauty of the fire.
An older woman caught my attention and asked, “do you mind if I ask you a question?”
I smiled – her husband looked irritated – and said, “of course not. How can I help?”
Her husband rolled his eyes and said with an air of both frustration and resignation, “I will wait for you in the drawing room,” then shuffled off.
The woman looked at me and said, “I have been watching you, and I couldn’t place you, but now hearing your accent, I know why.”
I was baffled but just smiled – I didn’t know what to say but felt if I just stayed silent she would continue.
“I taught social graces and etiquette in Oxford for many years and, although my husband disapproves, I like to observe how standards have slipped.”
I thought – “oh, no… what did I do?”
“You, however, are a puzzle to me,” she continued. “Apart from the two times you put your elbows on the arms of your chair, but redeemed yourself by quickly bringing them back down to your sides, there was only one time in all the while I have been observing you, that I saw an unforgivable flaw in your elegance.”
I went to ask what that was, but she continued with a diatribe of the things I apparently did correctly, even to the fact that I write with a gold fountain pen and have a leather pouch into which I place it when I am through. She mentioned the way I eat soup, bread, hold my glass, order my food and drink, the fact that I regularly straightened my posture, the clothes I am wearing (I always wear long skirts), the jewellery…
“but your disgrace was in talking to the servant as he was tending the fire. If he is good at his job, he prides himself on being invisible while undertaking such a task. You stole his invisibility and that is unforgivable.”
I was flabbergasted – and honoured – and touched – and baffled………. and she was right! This hotel is one of gloriously fine quality and the staff here truly do conduct themselves with the very highest levels of old-fashioned service.
I went to say something – although I am not sure what – and she stopped me, saying, “you can work on that.”
She nodded, gave me a half-smile, and walked off in the direction of her husband…
I felt as though I had just been given a gold star by my favourite teacher on a project on which I have been working my entire life.
This may not mean anything to many, but to me, this was one of the greatest compliments – and lessons – I have had the privilege of receiving.
I feel so very, very blessed…