By Annabel Monaghan
I was laid up for the month of December. I was recovering from surgery, and I’d gladly tell you all about it, but I’ve been watching so much “Downton Abbey” that I’m starting to think maybe I shouldn’t talk about such things in mixed company. I mean Lady Mary had some kind of women’s surgery and didn’t even tell her husband. Only in the 1920s could one fake a headache for that long.
I know I’m a little late to the game on “Downton Abbey”. I’d sort of been saving it for emergency downtime. There is nothing I like better than stories about wealthy British people doing each other wrong. I like clues and affairs and the accidental slip of the tongue that unravels the mystery; maybe a body surfacing from the depths of the loch.
I was surprised that “Downton Abbey” delivered none of that. In fact, it struck me as so domestic in nature that it was no escape at all. I spent the first season in a series of births, deaths and meals, marveling at the fact that Lady Mary and her sisters spent the day waiting to eat a dinner they did not plan, shop for or prepare. After dinner, while the kitchen servants cleaned up and thwarted each other’s romantic advances, they awaited other servants who would brush their hair and help them into their nightgowns.
These are not my kind of rich people. These are idle rich people who sit with straight backs and speak in soft voices. They don’t even go to that much trouble to vex each other, other than a carefully placed comment or quickly penned note. At one point there was much excitement around the preparation for a garden party, which included Lady Crawley telling the head housekeeper that there should be flowers. With all that order giving, no wonder she takes breakfast in bed. Later, during the war, sacrifices were made and the family learned to make do without the service of a second footman.
Their general sloth was like nothing I’d ever seen. Well, until I started to notice my own. In that first week of recovery I wondered how I was going to survive the schedule of 12 hours on the couch, 12 hours in bed. I wondered how I would endure the kindness of friends coming by with dinner every single night when I couldn’t even get to the door to let them in. I dreaded the daily task of changing my pajamas, an ordeal I only suffered so that my kids would find a slightly fresher looking lump on the couch at the end of the day.
It is alarming how easily I adjusted to this sedentary lifestyle. I quickly adapted a new routine, which was as pleasing to me as my old routine. Wake up and exercise was quickly replaced by wake up and read for five hours. The endorphins were exactly the same, and I’ve lost five pounds. Reading was followed by lunch and a few episodes of “Downton Abbey”, which soothed any lingering guilt I may have had about not really doing anything. I mean I brush my own hair after all.
By the end of week three, I had adopted the rhythms of “abbey” life. It was a lot of work resting up to eat a dinner that I neither prepared nor cleaned up. All that order giving made me feel like I needed breakfast in bed. At the end of the day I needed someone to bring me the mail and locate warmer socks. To the extent my second footman was delayed at basketball practice, I was relieved when my first footman came home for Christmas vacation to pitch in. Because God knows the tea doesn’t pour itself.