Your gracious Majesty will need to lay right off the penny buns and pints of port and lemon is she wants to avoid getting stuck in my new bath again. Here is your new menu list. Yes, that says two Bath Oliver biscuits a day, your regal tiny-bottomed Empress of India, and no, I'm not taking the piss.
About twelve years ago, my parents retired. The Northern Socialist had grown weary of globetrotting and morphed into a devoted old grandpappy, hanging up his ruler-for-walloping-wayward-kids and football boots and swapping bellows for lullabies. They sold their place abroad and started looking around Down South. The NS wanted a bungalow - years of restoring houses had tried his patience and wallet and he felt that spare bedrooms would encourage his sodding offspring to darken his doorstep and outstay their welcome.
He was roundly ignored - my mother and sister found an old tumble-down gothic Victorian pile in an ivy-clad, slightly gloomy village. It was enormous - cellars, attics, a bottomless, vertigo-inducing well in a room downstairs, peeling old paper with ancient horse-and-carriage scenes, windows on the outside with no correlating rooms and many many ghosts. An old lady put it up for auction on the understanding it would be restored to a family house and that she could come and visit twice a year to see children play on the wickedly neglected lawns. My mother and sister decided to buy it together and split it into two parts; a full-time one for the olds and a holiday house for the Pretty One and her family.
My parents and the Pretty One and the Professor put in a sealed bid and won. The NS was furious. The rest of us were delighted. Work began in earnest. My parents camped for six cold, filthy months in the butler's pantry, living on fish and chips and wine, oil lamps strung up and a paint-spattered wireless crackling Radio 4. The Professor, by contrast, stayed in London, sending down teams of artisans who has worked on the restoration of Hampton Court.
They had their work cut out, all of them. The place had been neglected for years, but from the damp, dirty, dingy rooms, the bones of a home emerged. The house had been built for one of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting, and, hopeful and career-minded as these types are, she had high hopes of a Royal visit. Dashing of hopes as the royal types are, it never happened - the specially-built porch to screen her arrival from common eyes; the blank stone shield on the side wall all ready to be inscribed with the details of her Majesty's visit; the new bathroom with a thunderously flushing loo and huge wide bath, all for nothing. Royal sceptics and suck-ups alike may draw lessons from this bathetic scene.
The artisans were briefed to replace all the rotting cornices around the tops of the walls. They studied Victorian domestic design books and archives; blueprints were found and pored over. Many moulds were cast before the correct plaster shape emerged, then the job started of casting the cornices, carefully removing them from the moulds and mounting them on the walls. The Northern Socialist and my mother went to B&Q and bought tenner-a-metre polystyrene cornicing in a Victorian style. Over the past twelve years, not a single visitor out of the hundreds who've passed through the shielding porch has ever been able to tell where the precious plaster ends and the polystyrene begins.
The joke has worn exceedingly thin with the Professor.