Book review: Red wine on the carpet

Red Wine on the Carpet

Mrs Danvers

(Quiller Publishing, £12.99)

Written by the acclaimed housekeeper who is vaguely related to the famous Mrs Danvers of Manderley (where else?), this informative book is a must have for the reference section in your library. As she herself acidly questions, ‘You must of course have a library?’ Blessed with such multifarious skills as displayed in these pages, she wouldn’t loiter in the HELP! section of Country Life for long. Housekeepers have traditionally managed large properties with busy and domestically inexperienced owners. They make the difference between a crumbling, chaotic country house and a properly maintained residence.

The skills and knowledge that they amass in a lifetime deserve to be passed on to help those of us struggling when things go pear-shaped, and when help, especially well-researched help, is hard to find. Created to answer readers’ queries and categorised under an index with clear headings such as Art and Antiques, Household, Christmas and Parties, this small, fact-packed book will make a terrific Christmas-stocking present. It has been compiled with both the ordinary and extraordinary disaster-prone person in mind. Whether you are tossing Latour over the Aubusson or trying to get dog pee off the white silk curtains, this book is for you.

Having read a fair number of ‘How to’ books in my time, this is certainly one of the most usable, although one or two of her suggestions regarding furniture care made me blanch a bit. The entry on water marks on furniture, particularly, was a worry. No distinction was made between white water marks (those that are dry), and dark water marks that are still damp. If you apply linseed oil on the latter it will get under the wax polish and remain dark forever, because the wood grain has swollen due to the moisture so be warned.

In all other respects, however, I was in awe of the myriad interests that she has acquired and mastered. Not only inside the mansion, but out of doors, Mrs Danvers’ remarkable life skills do not stop. Her ability to advise on such issues as wedding marquees and mobile loos shows she is eminently placed to run the major property where she resides, which hosts weddings and corporate dinners. A large garden has attracted her attention, and her tips on how to deal with encroaching bamboo and tricky water features are masterly. Comfortingly, she does not altogether blame an extravagant husband requiring multiple expensive machines for mowing the lawn. However, having sought external advice on the costs of the machines, she passes on the suggestion in a jocular way, that the couple asking her opinion should perhaps move to Germany where they do not go in for lawns.

Much encouraged by her evident enthusiasm for bonfires with not a single hesitant reference to carbon footprints, I have followed her sage advice and purchased a pitchfork which earned its keep this November 5, and allowed us to manage our blaze, with proper recourse to health-and-safety measures, naturally, in a responsible fashion.

The joy about this sensible and well-researched book is that it saves hours trawling through peripheral subjects on Google when trying to find a solution to a domestic crisis. Mrs Danvers has done it all for you she has joined telephonic queues and listened to more Handel’s water music in Chinese than you have had hot dinners, she has buttonholed aged experts with arcane knowledge unavailable to you and I, and she has done it all in response to questions from readers of Country Life for the price of a stamp. Having reread this splendid book, I realise that she has not in fact told me how to get dog pee off the curtains. Now, where did I put Country Life to get her email address…(it’s, Ed)

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