tl;dr – unless you’re pathologically interested in stories of What I Did, and What My Character Was Thinking, I’d avoid. This is just a long stream of me-me-me.
After a decade or so of thinking That Kind Of Thing Really Wasn’t For Me, I went to my first larp outside of the UK last year. I blogged about the game experience first, and never got back to putting the stories down. I can remember a moment or two, but I am sure there’s great swathes missing.
This year’s first kinda-Nordic is Fairweather Manor, an upstairs/downstairs larp. This was my first pop at Upstairs, I’m usually buried in a kitchen so that was new. I also wanted to challenge myself a bit more with some deeper character play. I want to get the stories down now, before I forget any more of them.
I was cast as Lord Arthur Fitzgerald, an Anglo-Irish lord, the family spare to his brother Earl Thomas, and dreadfully, terribly, awfully in love with his sister-in-law Georgina. I am not entirely sure if that was the writer’s intent, but that’s what the event got. The family was over at Fairweather Manor for the wedding of Arthur’s nephew, Alexander to Amanda, daughter of the Duke of Somerset, Georgina’s brother.
Arthur, it is safe to say, was a jerk.
Act 1: Life is not as usual.
Friday, and Arthur woke to the realisation that in a room for three, with his two nephews, he was in the bed which should rightfully be taken by their brother, and would have been had he not died on the retreat from Mons.
A poor start to the day, then on to the usual 8.30 meeting with brother. Papers full of news of the Tsar’s abdication, and advances in anti-submarine warfare for which the Fitzgerald shipyards and a Dr Birch were mainly responsible. Wrote to Lady Catherine Fairweather, expressing interest in meeting her at a poetry reading later. All business as usual, then breakfast, family meeting, then archery.
Lunch in excellent company. According to the Russian Baron Pytor: you try and invade Russia, then you die. Lady Marie D’Ursel of the Belgian branch began a discussion of weather forecasting. The company agreed that: in Cornwall, you nail a piece of seaweed to your barn and if wet, it is raining, and if horizontal, it is blowing a gale; in Ireland, the seaweed on your barn *is* wet, and it is raining, and in Russia, you cannot see the seaweed on your barn, it is beneath the snow. Loses wager on archery to nephew Alexander despite morning practise. Mild irritation, late for poetry, no Lady Catherine. Disappointment. Business as usual.
Read Sonnet 134, one with specific personal meaning to him. “So now I have confessed that he is thine, And I my self am mortgaged to thy will’….
Left, approached by the magnificent (Dowager Baroness?) Mina Petrova: “So, Lord Arthur, who is your Dark Mistress?”. Shock that anyone would be both so acute and so blunt, Arthur admits everything, it’s Georgina his sister-in-law, love of his life, the only woman he will ever love etc. He gloomily asks a return question: “Lady Petrova, what is the point of marriage?” She’s three points: love is only one, and not the important one. Arthur responds that two out of three wouldn’t be bad, then? She agrees, to his utter surprise thanks him for his offer, and the conversation carries on something like this:
A: “Ahm… Shall we call it a proposal?”
M: “I am afraid there is a problem. I am from Schleswig-Holstein.”
A: “Oh. I understand there is a Question?”
A: “Which side?”
M: “The wrong one. I am German.”
A: “Oh, bother.”
A: “Oh, damnit. It would have been so terribly tidy.”
…and that’s how Arthur accidentally proposed a loveless marriage to a Russian baroness.
Act 2: It gets worse.
There being no wedding rehearsal planned, Earl Thomas had deputised Arthur to make sure one happened. A very wise decision, leading as a side effect to an unlikely bond with a French fencing instructor. The three groomsmen didn’t impress Arthur in their role supporting their friend Alexander. One slouched thumbs hooked in pockets, one didn’t seem take the need for rehearsal seriously, and one was planning to wear an entirely inappropriate jacket to the actual ceremony. Still, there it is. The rehearsal gave Arthur two things.
The start of a joke for the rest of the weekend: “A delinquent, a disappointment, and a disinherited Buddhist walked into a chapel…”.
And a theme tune to whistle until the day he fell out of love with Georgina, or died. Perhaps the most inappropriate lines ever to be sung at a wedding, and an utter heart breaker for him: “If you were the only girl in the world, and I was the only boy…”.
That rather broke Arthur, who was whistling it from Friday’s rehearsal until the nearly the end of the event…
At some time around now, Arthur also received a response to his letter to Lady Catherine from – of all people – her mother, the Duchess Margaret. His niece Constance confirmed all was above board. Apparently, a duchess expressing sadness we’d not met at the poetry and looking forward to being called upon again meant a marriage with her daughter was still on the cards. Arthur looked forward to that on Saturday.
After another excellent dinner, possibly in the trophy room? Arthur’s relationship with his brother took a turn that could – perhaps – have been anticipated. Arthur would never remember the earl’s exact words, but what he *heard* was: “Don’t be naive, you idiot, of course gentlemen have affairs.”
…and that’s how Arthur’s relationship with his brother started to break down.
Act 3. Love is also very much not as usual.
Arthur spent the rest of the evening getting on the outside of a quantity of whisky, and starting a list of who he thought his brother might be having an affair with, which would eventually contain…
- Mrs Goldbaum, the lawyer’s wife.?
- That nurse woman, friend of Clara Hoares?
- One of the Miss Courtney’s – he couldn’t remember which one but he’d definitely seen some physical contact.
- The eldest Fairweather daughter, possibly?
Arthur was never entirely sure where the list ended up.
What he is sure about is that later his brother arranged a family chat with Alexander, to share some wisdom on weddings. Not only was Arthur not specifically invited, but then before it started – Thomas asked Arthur to fetch the cigars like some kind of valet. Another downward turn in their relationship. Downwards accelerated when the Earl was pretty instantly dismissive of Jack Henessey’s advice that Alexander should be concerned with love in marriage. And started to move downhill faster still with advice of the Earl’s that Thomas used repeatedly throughout the weekend, something like: “Keep your fire at home and your flames elsewhere. Your fire keeps the home warm, your flames will destroy it.” To Arthur – that was a pretty explicit admission of multiple affairs, and of a treatment of Georgina that he found abominable.
More whisky, then. At some point during the wedding weekend, and it may well have around now, Arthur asked Austen Wayward what the point of marriage was. After covering the “carnal stuff” in more detail than Arthur was entirely comfortable with – to whit, any detail whatsoever – Austen said something rather interesting. “Two minds are better than one.”.
Arthur firmly intended to take a relatively early night, but by this time quite drunk, he accompanied nephew Lawrence to a pajama party, where he saw a pair of figures he recognised. Getting dressed.
A: “That’s the French fencing instructor. And that’s me niece!”
So there went the short-lived bond with the Marcel Lippman.
It’s safe to say Saturday morning’s meeting of the brothers was a touch cold. Arthur will never remember what was said, but none of it was cordial. His notes suggest “Lawyers, suggestions of estate diversification, and Courtney troubles.”
Afterwards, he returned to his room, quite a way into dressing hour, to find valets Pecker and Bergstrom marching up and down *quite loudly* outside, the room still in darkness, a light breakfast tray untouched on the table, and Lawrence and Alexander still in bed.
Later, Arthur had to correct Jack Hennessy’s handling of his servant:
A: “Your valet talked to us about borrowing some clothes.”
J: “Oh good, can you help?”
A: “Yes, but your valet talked to us about it.”
J: “Good. I asked him to, so…”
A: “We can help, but, your VALET talked to US about it directly.”
J: “… Oh. I’ll… talk to him about it?”
(The Dowager Countess Courtney might have been a little surprised later that her kind-hearted “All my family are engaged, I shall be irrelevant soon!” was met a stony gaze and by Arthur’s internal monologue “I’ve never *been* relevant, woman…”.)
At some point, he thinks at the family meeting that day while being quizzed as to what he had done in Paris, Lord Alexander told Earl Thomas: “We went La Traviata and it was marvellous….” and Earl Thomas responded: “Oh, you like opera? We had Gilbert and Sullivan in Dublin, we should go.” Arthur thinks perhaps not.
Arthur would later recall meeting Tatiana Petrova at breakfast that day, although he may have this wrong. In character and wit she resembled her mother, an excellent recommendation in a woman and entirely in order with Austen Wayward’s advice. They circum-perambulated the Orangery together, in a most agreeable first walking out, only marred a little by their emergence into the assembled ranks of the servants’ luncheon, and a massed stony glares that accompanied their scuttled progress out. Hmm, thinks Arthur.
Arthur’s film show seemed to go down rather well, his brother – the cavalry officer – attending with a woman other than his wife, to Arthur’s memory took the news that this invention of the “tank” would render the horse in war entirely irrelevant relatively calmly, and Tatiana attended. The audience took to the film rather well, thought Arthur. Even the scenes showing pigs being butchered, which in retrospect could have been left on the cutting room floor.
The wedding preparation went perfectly well, except for a moment of concern: “WHERE’S MY FUCKING HAT?”, Arthur had to ask his nephew Alexander’s valet, Mr Pecker, who found the headgear in short order. Fine man, that.
Still, Arthur spent Saturday afternoon post-wedding in a state of some confusion. No idea of what to do about the realisation that his brother was treating Georgina so poorly. He struck on enlistment as a potential course of action. One of the Fitzgeralds had to fight, Lawrence couldn’t go back, Alexander couldn’t be allowed to go at all, so why not Arthur? Death before dishonour? He cleared his mind by writing: a new will which he made a note to getting witnessed later, a letter to Mina Petrova informing her he’d changed his will entirely in her favour, and a note to Georgina confessing eternal love, which he later lost. (For some time, he worried that he might have left it in the pocket of a morning suit he’d borrowed for the wedding on Saturday as he lent Jack Henessey his, but that couldn’t be, surely?)
More surprisingly, at about this time Arthur was manoeuvred into the theatre by the Duchess of Somerset. Turns out Constance had been entirely wrong, and the actual meaning of the response to a letter which it turned out had *actually* been delivered to entirely the wrong Lady Fairewather, was something like “Not my daughter, no. How about me?” Sitting on the stage, shuffling towards him, a hand on his thigh and an indelicate offer. To which Arthur’s response was a polite refusal, something like “My heart is with another, I cannot.”
…and that’s how Arthur turned down a Duchess.
Act 4: And then it gets worse too.
Increasingly, Arthur’s life was resembling nothing so closely as a French farce. The family interrogation of Dr. Ben Courtney tested the fellow’s mettle, and found it wanting. Sitting at 7pm on the clock face around him with brother at 3pm and alternating questions was extremely satisfying. A little like happier times.
Unlike the wedding, when seated behind his brother and Georgina, Arthur spent the entire ceremony in the usual fug. Arthur never likes weddings, as he told a number of people over the weekend. Including Tatiana, which may not perhaps have been wise, but there it is.
To add insult to injury, Earl Thomas turns to him during the wedding ceremony just after Love Divine, and said something like “A bit quieter man, you’re drawing attention to your self.” “Am I. Right then.” thought Arthur.
Shortly after, Arthur happened upon His Dark Mistress walking up the stairs, manoeuvred her into the theatre, confessed everything, told her Earl Thomas was treating her abominably, gave a specific example of Thomas holding a woman’s face in his hands, and left her crying.
Shortly afterwards – Arthur thinks – the family accidentally stumble across an empty ballroom. Constance plays divinely, and Lawrence suggests a song. “Danny Boy” with more volume than accuracy, but then the Earl and Georgina in a duet which has him in *bits*. Thomas’ tone, her expression, and certainty. The Earl and Georgina *really do* love each other, and the Earl *isn’t* a philandering jackass after all.
…and that’s how Arthur’s heart broke; certainty his brother was a cad, to certainty he wasn’t in afternoon.
Act 5: Clarity at last. Or not.
And so to dinner. (Perhaps? It’s all getting hazy now…) The usual excellent conversation, Marie D’Ursel on fine form, Lawrence looking happy for the first time in years. Then, he thinks, Sarah Bernhardt gets to him with news from Georgina. Who’d sent an actress to tell him to get over it, with a theatrical metaphor. Another new low. Arthur was a big fan, he’d funded her tours, but still… An actress. To whom he had – he thought – already confessed his love for Georgina some years before.
Right then, Arthur was quite regretting his refusal of the Duchess of Somerset, and was thinking that maybe enlistment wasn’t all that good an option.
And so to the trophy room, asked Baron Petrova’s permission to propose to his daughter, got a surprised look and an affirmative, broached the subject with brother Thomas, got amazement:
T: “Why do you want to get married to her?”
A: “We get on.”
T: “Because she’s available?”
A: “She’s good company. I like her.”
T: “Well, have you thought of Lady Catherine?”
A: “Yes, her mother blocked it.”
T: “One of the Courtney’s?”
T: “You’ll have to move from Glin…”
The mood darkened further when the local recruiting office arrived with a list of people summoned to the Front. One of them was Jamesy Fairweather. Assuming seeing the Duchess stalking the corridor towards him was something of a cue, he started with a clipped “I’m so sorry.”. Arm in arm to the end of a long corridor, to Arthur’s increasing confusion as it led nowhere. Then she dropped his arm, turned, and declaimed “We can’t, we mustn’t and we shan’t.” as she strode off, leaving Arthur shrunken and alone in her majestic wake. Still, there it is.
One of the family servants, Jonas Bergstrom, had been variably responsible for Arthur’s dress all weekend, and improving despite a poor start – he’d been a better mechanically-minded chauffeur. Arthur liked him, they’d had an experimental moment in the past, to no spark of course. Anyway, Jonas’d been called up. When a plan appeared to get him into the family anti-submarine work, Arthur was an enthusiastic supporter and the plan only stymied by Thomas’s refusal to sign a telegram. A disappointment, really.
The ball started rather well, a little most enjoyable dancing with Tatiana Petrova. By this time Arthur had heard her declare her ambition to fight the Bolshevik, or see war action of some sort, and was feeling quite impressed. A trip out onto the gallery with her, frantically and silently trying to get her aunt Mina to get rid of the vicar who just kept cropping up in the wrong place.
Eventually, a turn round the terrace, with proposal in mind. Good conversation, she seemed to think so too, and the subject turns to archery…
A: “Your mother says you’re excellent at archery, and you have an unusual technique.”
Tatiana: “Oh, yes, I use a thumb ring…” (etc.)
A: “As we’re on the subject of rings, maybe one day…?”
T: “Perhaps. When we get to know each other better.”
And so Arthur stopped proposing, and walked her back to the ball. Having secured an actual ring through the good offices of Messrs Pecker and O’Connell, he returned to the subject later, giving her the ring and saying something like “Keep hold of this until you feel you’re ready to use it.” or something like that. Which sounded quite romantic to him, and she’d not said “No.”, after all.
…and that’s how Arthur left the ball thinking everything might end out for the best, and he’d got what you might call a “no-score draw” out of his plan for Saturday after lunch of “Confess to his dark mistress, bed a duchess, and get engaged.”