Ah, there you are. I haven’t posted in a day or two, do forgive a busy Viper.
Brace yourselves, this is going to be a long post. It’s got photos, it’s got words, it’s got… no, actually, that’s it… photos and words.
If you’re a bit delicate, you may want to pop to the loo before you start. Why not treat yourself to a glass of something or a cup of tea? Have a biscuit or two? Tuck into some pork scratchings if you’re that way inclined.
Ready? Right then, away we go.
Something is coming…
An ominous shadow, no?
Before we get to the cause of that shadow, let me give you some background.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, Mrs Viper and I are in love with Chatsworth House. It’s a stately home in Derbyshire. It was the inspiration for Pemberley in ‘Pride and Prejudice’. We have Gold Friends Cards, so we can go without too much cost (the cards were mostly thanks to saved money from birthdays and Christmas presents). We’re not wealthy people, so we prioritize: we can’t live in a country house, but we can damn well visit one.
One of our greatest luxuries, something that we save for throughout the year, is the Chatsworth Masquerade Balls. Shall we do a Balls joke? Nah, you can do one in your head, let’s crash on.
We’ve been to a few of the Balls and we love the opportunity to dress up. You can attend in evening dress, but there is the option to go a little further. Sometimes there is a Regency theme and I’m a Viper that enjoys wearing high-waisted trousers. For this Christmas, the House was decorated in a Nutcracker ballet theme. I didn’t want to go as a nutcracker and Mrs Viper wouldn’t let me be a ballerina.
I toyed with ideas. I thought about the toy-maker from the Nutcracker story and this led me to think about Father Christmas, dishing out toys. I’m not a Santa enthusiast, I prefer the name Father Christmas. We could have a fascinating exploration here of winter gods, Senex figures in myths and the links between pagan and Christian traditions. We could search for the ways that Sinterklaas, Julbocken, Santa, the Green Man and similar figures have all informed our current view of the festive fatty. Let’s not, though. Content yourself in knowing that I spent hours reading and looking at pictures so that I could dress up and show off. There was academic research behind my attention seeking.
I read an entire book about the Oak King and the Holly King. Quick precis: there was a pre-Christian myth cycle where the year was ruled for six months by the Oak King and for Six Months by the Holly King. I liked the sound of the Holly King. I wanted to be a winter spirit, but not a cosy Santa in a red suit, giving significant plastic to kids. I wanted to be something a bit more dangerous and sexy. I’m pretty dangerous and sexy. Mrs Viper says I am and she’s the only one that matters.
I also wanted a touch of the Toy Maker and a suggestion of vague Victoriana. I hired some Victorian stuff from Complete Costumes. This company is phenomenal. The prices are amazing considering the quality of the clobber and the efficiency of the service. I went for green and gold. Before Santa was red, he was very often green, so this fitted my Holly King pretensions. I got hold of white hair spray for my curls and my beard. I got some fake holly to make into a headdress. I bought a lovely green cloak from Ebay (velvety and gorgeous). I also added my own pocket watch and holly leaf brooch. I have this kind of stuff, ok?
Mrs Viper… well. Mrs Viper loves dressing up even more than I do. She was the Holly Queen. I won’t be showing her picture, I respect her anonymity. She wore a claret coloured Victorian dress (complete with bustle). She had a matching holly leaf brooch and a sumptuous red cloak. We spent less than you’d think, honest. If I were a better blogger, I’d record all the prices, but… nah. Stuff that. I’m not an accountant, I’m a loser who likes dressing up. Let me tell you, though, Mrs Viper looking stunning. She dyed her hair an even darker red, had me lace her into one of her best corsets and she got her sister to sort the make-up (the Viperish sis-in-law is a make-up and beauty expert). She’s a sexy lady and a regulation cutey, is Mrs Viper.
Holly leaf brooch? Bloody right it is. Search for leaf jewellery on google and you’ll find suppliers. These beauties are made from real leaves that are electroplated with metal through a process of magic and wishing really hard. Science!
I felt excited as we were getting ready. That’s very unusual for me. The best I can normally manage in life is a gentle contentment. I’m rubbish at happy. More than happy is beyond me. This Masquerade, though, was something different. This was not just about the dressing up, the event or the luxurious food. This was a celebration of eight years of marriage. This was also a celebration of the fact that I wasn’t killed by my depression. On top of that, it was a celebration of our marriage being better than it has ever been. Thanks to my appalling behaviour in the too recent past, we spent some time separated. This was a bad thing. We are together again. This is a good thing. I know my writing here is woefully basic, but I’m struggling with the emotion and the honesty. All you need to know is that this night was a big deal for us, ok? Sometimes you’re bloody nosey.
When we were satisfied with our costumes, we crammed ourselves into the car. Have you ever got into a small car wearing a bustle or a holly head-dress? You should try. It’s a lark.
The journey through a rainy evening was filled with little Christmas vignettes: trees glimpsed through windows, villages filled with lights, pubs filled with revellers. Eventually, there was the drive up to Chatsworth itself. It’s magnificent to watch the building as it’s revealed from behind the silhouettes of trees. Shame we couldn’t get any pictures, it was raining too hard.
After a quick stop under an archway to fix the cloaks, we headed through the drizzle to the welcoming lights of the great house. As we passed folk in tuxedos and lovely evening dresses, we got a few stares. I imagine people were thinking “weirdo alert!” or “bloody show offs!”. It’s fair: we are weird and we love to show off.
I’m going to break my blog rule about not showing my face. Sorry. I don’t think it will compromise my anonymity too badly. Have a peek at the Holly King.
You can’t see much, can you? I know that. I’m a tease. My beard isn’t that white, you know. It’s the spray. Damn, I forgot to mention the masks! Mrs Viper sourced them from Ebay. They look like gold filigree with diamonds. They’re fake, natch. Looks good, though, doesn’t it? You can’t see my brooch in this shot, it’s under the cloak. Don’t worry, you’ll see more. Don’t be so anxious.
See these ladies on the stairs? They’re the Vernon Sisters. The Vernon Sisters Here they are. They are bloody fantastic. They sing, they dance, they’re funny. Is it sexist to say they’re sexy? If it is, it’s their fault for being so sexy that they make me sexist. (I stole that joke from Flight of the Conchords, so it’s not sexist) I would describe what they do, but I don’t want to. I want you to watch them on youtube. Then I want you to add them to your twitter. Then I want you to say that I sent you. Then I want to become friends with them and get invited to their gigs and shit. What are you waiting for?! Stop reading for a bit and go make the Vernons love me.
You’re back? Marvellous. On with this epic post. There was free champagne. I only had one glass because I wanted to keep my head for driving. I also wanted to remember this perfectly. I would be able to blog about it that way and I would remember this special anniversary far better if I wasn’t pissed out of my beautiful head.
A lady asked us for a photo. Paranoid-me thinks that she wanted to laugh at it on her social media. Extrovert-me doesn’t give a fuck. I’d rather be the one noticed than just another bloke in a tux.
Here’s me surveying the plebs:
I’m considering whether to use the powers of winter to destroy them. I chose mercy in the end. I didn’t want to spoil the evening with an act of mythological cruelty. Want some pictures of me posing around Chatsworth House? Course you do, you’re gagging for them.
Let’s have a caption competition. Leave a caption for any of these in the comments. The best caption wins a smile from me.
We toured the house alone. We were the first away from the drinks and the canapes. I didn’t mention the canapes! They were exquisite. I wanted a hundred. I probably ate more than I ought to have done. I only had the one glass of champagne, stop judging me. Back to my point: we had the house to ourselves. Did I pretend that we lived there? The way that I always do. Sometimes I even whisper, “Get out of my house,” to other visitors.
After the house, there was a quick walk up to the Stables where the restaurant was waiting. It’s very satisfying to hang up a cloak next to more normal coats. VERY satisfying. Do you know why? Because it means I’m better than them. BETTER.
I have problems, I know. Look, just let me enjoy my night, ok?
I felt slightly sorry for the people on our table. Stuck with the weird pair. No, I’m kidding. I didn’t feel sorry for them at all. They should have damn well genuflected. I’m the Holly King. They were perfectly lovely people, I’m sure. I can’t pretend I paid any attention to them. I hardly care about my friends, let alone strangers. I remember very clearly that they had faces and they talked to me too much. Don’t talk, just stare in awe.
I was going to do a long review of the food, but I’ve already done a self-indulgent preamble that’s nearly two thousand words. I need to have a long hard think about myself. I need to stop blathering. Short story: the food was exceptional. Have some food pictures.
No, I didn’t eat the cracker. Oddball.
The fish course was delicious. I even enjoyed the caviar. Sorbet to clear the palette? Don’t mind if I do. The main course was both delicious and filling, sometimes a rare quality in the gourmet food biz. That tart thing? Lovely. Though you have to call her Mrs Viper. That is a joke. I didn’t steal it. You can tell, can’t you?
Others at the table were drinking. I did envy them a little, but I’m glad I was restrained. I can remember the evening and the memories are precious.
Quick side note: the toilets have gold doors! I’m not kidding. No, I didn’t take a picture. Don’t be weird.
After the pudding, there was coffee and then the wonderful Vernon Sisters returned. Here they are.
Sorry the photos aren’t great. Sorry they don’t play music either. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Look, if this is what you’re going to be like, you can go to the damn event yourself, shitty. There was so much good music. Motown, fifties, sixties, eighties. I love these women. Did I dance? You betcha tuckus I danced. There are varying opinions on my dancing: there are those that think I am a bad dancer and then there are those who are correct. Those correct people think that I have fantastic rhythm, hips like a salsa dancer and the charming vivacity of Shirley Temple. Mrs Viper pretends to find me embarrassing. She pretends almost too well, to be honest. You should see my lasso move. Breath taking.
Somehow, it ended. It was around midnight. I was putting on a cloak and leaving a ball. I was with the woman that I love, the woman that made this event happen for me, the woman that is responsible for me being alive. All in all, pretty good, huh? Not to mention that I looked like a pagan god. As I was leaving, some lady asked me if I was the god of wine. I nearly slapped her. I didn’t, I said I was the Holly King. She looked bemused.
I should have slapped her, shouldn’t I?
Well, readers, I think I’ll end it there. This has been quite an adventure, hasn’t it? You may wonder what happened when Mrs Viper and I returned home. If you wonder that, you’re going to remain unsatisfied.
Always leave them wanting more.