Touch Me Quick Before the ‘Posh’ Rubs Off!

Now and then while reading through my blog entries I discover something I think the fine readers at aNewsCafe might find amusing. This is one such entry, a story about an unexpected visit from the aristocracy some years ago, to little old us. For the sake of clarity here in 2019, the subject of this piece is no longer in office, as he was voted out soon after this visit occurred. I can’t vote here in the UK so it had nothing to do with me, honest (but I would have added my vote-against, if I’d had one).

So come back in time with me to August of 2013… The UK had a ‘coalition’ government which was comprised of the Conservative (Tory) party, boosted along by the Liberal Democrats to give them a majority government. Coalition, my butt. It was Tory all the way. The sick and disabled were being ever more harassed by a government trying to cut all possible benefits to them, the Liberal Democrats were guzzling Tory Kool-Aid, and times were clearly getting harder for the commonfolk.

One rainy August evening my husband and I had a visit from Lord John Thurso, 3rd Viscount, about whom Sem said, “Pfft. ‘Lord Thurso’ indeed. That’d be Jock Sinclair, to us up here,” [pronounced ‘Sinkler’]. I find that very, very funny.

Side Note: I am always struck by how someone can be, for example, born with the name Ted Sunderland, then inherit a title and immediately be known as Lord Theodore Cackstone, Earl of Moo, as well as having about six other names because of various land-holdings and so forth. It’s like no one in the aristocracy is just ONE THING. Prince William is not just Prince of Wales (or is that Charles?) but the Duke of… somewhere. Cambridge? And he’s just one example. There are others who have so many names! I’ve read a few books wherein the aristocracy figured prominently and half the time I didn’t realize at first that “the Marquess Bartholomew Hillerton-Boswell” was in fact also “Old Brackstone,” “Lord Elderflower,” “Duke of Codpiece” and “Barty” as well.

Anyway… being an upstart American, all of this Lord and Lady stuff kind of rolls off me. There are a few people here in the village who practically tug the ol’ forelock at the mere mention of The Aristocracy but I just can’t see why. I simply have no concept of them as my ‘betters.’ Then again, I am of the firm belief that no one is better than me in ‘class’ or ‘station’ (nor am I better than them) so maybe this is why I just can’t go around calling someone “Lord” Anything. Yer not my Lord, mate, so how about I just call you “Hi there!” And don’t expect any forelock-tugging or curtseying, either – nor a quick, torrid tumble in the stables with m’Lord just because he can.

Sem has said that Scotland is a country somewhat divided, when it comes to this. The independent counties (farming communities such as Caithness or Aberdeen, among others) see the aristocracy as, and I quote Sem, “a parasitical excrescence, and also the true source of the vampire myth.” By which he means the aristocracy’s greed for more more more is fed by the workers’ labors. It goes back hundreds of years and while it isn’t to such a large degree these days, it’s still there. The landowners suck the lifeblood out of their tenants, their wealth gained on the backs of The People. Interesting concept, actually.

Other counties, such as the one we live in, are different – it’s the counties who are (or used to be) dependent on the hunting and fishing estates owned by the Landed Gentry who seem to be the ones most eager to bow and scrape. It’s what they know; it’s what they do. Especially one of the nearby villages, where the local castle is – theirs is a long association with the Dukes and Duchesses of the area, and despite the horrible things which that particular family has done throughout history, those villagers are practically bald in front from all the forelock-tugging, even to this day. They crawl RIGHT up the arses of the aristocrats, who lap it all up as their God-given due. Still. In this day and age.

You can probably guess which sort of county Sem was raised in, I’m sure. One glance at his untugged forelock and the steely glint in his eyes in the presence of aristocrats would tell anyone on which side of THAT divide my Sem grew up.

So. Back to the story. We had just finished our dinner and were watching some cheesy TV show I’ve become addicted to, when there was a knock on the door. I went to see who it was and standing there, soaked to the eyeballs from the constant drizzle we’d been having was a geeky young fella with a handful of leaflets and an eager smile. “I’m here on behalf of John Thurso,” he started, the earnest gleam of a minion in his eye. “We’d be grateful if you would fill in one of our surveys, so that Lord Thurso can best serve the constituency here.” I accepted the survey, saying that I can’t vote here but my husband can, and that I would pass it along. Earnest Minion said, “Lord Thurso is right behind me; he’d like to say hello.”

Well! I happened to know that Sem had a passing acquaintance with ‘Jock Sinclair’ so I said that would be lovely and in a moment the Man Himself was at our door, giant tweed coat swirling around him, barely-damp hair falling carelessly over his brow (maybe Lords repel rain). I shook his hand and for some unfathomable reason made him wait on the doorstep while I went in to see if Sem wanted to say hello. Actually it’s not unfathomable, to be fair. Sem is not always of a mind to say hello to unexpected visitors, but it gave me the opportunity to duck into the living room and remove our dinner plates (we rarely eat anywhere but the kitchen but hey, my stories were just starting and I hadn’t wanted to miss anything) while Sem went to the door and invited him in, because Sem is the lord of his own castle after all.

Fortunately the house wasn’t a shambles, other than a chunk or two of Smartie-fur which she insists on yanking out and leaving around the place. But for once there weren’t clotheshorses with drying laundry blocking the hallway, nor cobwebs of dust festooning the ceilings. I mentioned something about our humble home to Sem later on and he said, “Well at least OUR house has a roof!” Because here is Thurso Castle:

Heh. Okay, so Lord Thurso and all the junior Thursos don’t live in that bit, they live in the bit just to the left of it…

…and while it HAS come down a peg since its earlier days…

Photo Source: Caithness.org

I’m sure it is full of all the comfortable mod cons available now.

M’lord (*snort*) sat down, expansively at ease, and we had a candid discussion about what’s going on in government [he was a Member of Parliament on the Liberal Democrat side in this ‘coalition’ with the Conservatives]. He even eventually remembered Sem specifically, rather than pretending to, because he recalled working with Sem on the ‘GP Action Group’ when the powers that be were trying to take our village medical center away.

Lord Thurso did talk over us quite a lot, in the way of politicians trying to sound sincere and vigorous, but at one point when I was speaking – and had a point to make – he spoke over me once too often. Ever-so-politely I said, slightly raising my voice and speaking over him in turn, “Please let me finish what I am saying.” To his credit he instantly apologized and shut his lordly yap. Tee hee.

And that’s what I mean about “no one is better than I am.” If someone – anyone – continually talks over me when I have something valid to say, I WILL demand politely to finish my sentence and be heard. If that shocked His Lordship well, then, so be it. He can chalk it up to me being an impudent American. Or an uncharacteristically aggressive Canadian, since sometimes people think I come from Oh! Canada! which I have no problem with, being fond of Canadians as I am.

A large, imposing, bushy-bearded man, he carries his Lordness (?) with easy grace. His hairstyle is longer than you’d expect from a Member of Parliament, and often a stray lock of hair falls oh-so-carelessly over his forehead, adding to his studied charm. If you’re curious about what he looks like, have a peek at his Wikipedia page; a Google Image search will show you the dashing moustache, the friendly smile and the fact that he looks at ease both in kilts and suits, in all sorts of situations. His father, the 2nd Viscount Thurso, was apparently rather less typically Lordly. Sem said that no one local ever called him ‘Lord Thurso’ – they just called him Robin Sinclair because he was wholly unpretentious, which I find lovely. He, according to Sem, enjoyed walking around in kilt suits, greeting the people he met. Then there was the current Lord Thurso’s grandfather, Archibald Sinclair, the 1st Viscount, very active in politics and the military, highly regarded and well-respected and, judging by the following photo, looking rather Lordly with it.

Caption: Archibald Sinclair, 1st Viscount Thurso. Photo source – Imperial War Museums Collections (Public Domain)

The current Lord Thurso has charm by the bucketload, it must be said. He is neither as truly unostentatious as his father nor perhaps as sharp and clever as his grandfather but he has at least been known to try, if someone comes to him directly with an appeal for help. How effective he is in Parliament I do not know, but Sem did take him to task for some of the things the Liberals have done/agreed to, which were against their own policies but which furthered the interests of the Conservatives. Thurso of course made, “Oh quite to the contrary!” noises, and he very seriously told us that the people who are the best off right now are the old age pensioners (retirees), and that the disabled and ill are very well protected under the current government. Um… actually, no. Pensioners are having to go back to work to make ends meet, and the disabled and ill are reviled by the working folk (and the government) even while their benefits are being whisked right out from under them, causing some to contemplate suicide. We know this because one of our best friends considered it seriously over an entire weekend after yet another government letter arrived, telling him he had to prove his lifelong disability once again. Which we told Lord Thurso, who made appropriately sympathetic noises while still conveying the idea that we were actually wrong. Which we were most emphatically not. [2019 note: this behavior by the government continues to this day.]

At one point we were talking about banks not loaning to small businesses when Sem said, “My wife has a small business and she would likely never be able to get a loan because of how the banks are behaving these days.” Thurso asked what sort of business it was and I said, “Fountain pen restoration and sales.” His eyes lit up. “Oh! Do you have a business card,” he asked, patting his pockets, “I have a Waterman which is broken and I’d love to have it repaired, I use it all the time and it has a broken bit. I have the bits and don’t know if it can be repaired…” I gave him a business card and he said he would take a photo of the pen and bits and email it to us, since it apparently wasn’t in any of his tweedy pockets.

I am sure we will soon be providing fountain pens to all of Parliament. Because even if we can’t fix Jock Sinclair’s pen, we know someone who can. Once his peers find out about our humble sales site they will most certainly flock to buy from us, and after that I can only assume that our fountain pens will catch the eye of Her Maj. I have no doubt that by 2014 our business will be able to boast the tag-line, “By Appointment To Her Majesty, The Queen”. Yep, us and Coleman’s Mustard, Cadbury UK, and HP Sauce among others. [2019 note: sadly, this did not happen, not a single bit of it.]

Give him his due, Thurso stayed for about 45 minutes – long enough for his soaked minion to come back to our house and give me a raised eyebrow look through the front window, having lost His Master. I nodded and went to the open front door and invited him to come in and sit, giving him a towel so he could dry off. He didn’t park himself for long but went back out to “crack on a bit,” and while Thurso promised he was right behind him, he stayed a few minutes longer.

The whole time I was laughing to myself because now I can not only say that I have “lunched at the Castle” (though it wasn’t Thurso Castle), I can also say that I have spent some time in the company of a Lord in our modest abode – a Lord who I told nicely to shaddap and lemme finish. Hee!

So as I said earlier touch me, I have been in the presence of a Lord, and some of the posh may have rubbed off on me. I kind of doubt it though, since the idea of Lords, Ladies, and the aristocracy at large just sends me into fits of giggles which most likely shake off what little glittery bits of poshness might have landed on me, right onto the floor next to a chunk of Smartie’s fur.

Just to keep things in perspective, by the way, this is what Sem said when I showed him the photos of Thurso Castle which I’d found online:

“Oh I know that place well,” he said with a glimmer of nostalgia. “I spent countless days cutting school in and around Thurso Castle with a pal of mine… No one ever bothered us. It was perfect.”

Deb Segelitz

Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands, sharing life with her husband, a Highlander she stumbled across purely by chance on a blog site. They own a small business restoring and selling vintage fountain pens, which allows Deb to set her own schedule and have time for photography, writing and spontaneous car rides in the countryside. She is grateful to the readers of ANC for accepting her into the North State fold.

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