Memories, 10: Rubbings of Elbows, Part Three

Rubbings of Elbows

Part 3 of 3

 

The new cook of course saw to the production of meals. When I took LRH the hot chocolate on his afternoon wake-up, I no longer had to dart back to the kitchen, but at first I wasn’t actually thinking of staying in the room. LRH started keeping me there by chatting to me at some length about this and that as he sipped his chocolate and smoked. He was taking the initiative in getting to know me, allowing me to get to know him. After a few weeks, he corrected me in my addressing him as “Sir”. “My friends call me ‘Ron’”, he told me, and he spoke kindly, as to a friend. He had begun teasing me in a gentle way, never meanly; he laughed happily at me when I grinned, or made a moue as though to say, “That’s what you think.”. He enjoyed little digs about my being a Scot born in Wales and living in England. And he said to me, “Yes, I tease you, but you know we only tease our friends.” Thus, empathy having grown between us, I came to feel some security in my position with him and therefore in the house and in the organization.

Although he was encouraging me to feel some security in myself as a person, I never did bring myself to address him as ‘Ron.’ For one thing, I was too conscious of being his domestic servant and having my own peculiar idea that we should not pretend to relate as though equals. Another was my inner reluctance to take even the slightest step to open myself to the kind of alpha-male onslaught I’d experienced in intimacy with my father. Yet, while he was a man vastly more powerful than my father and obviously capable of wounding me mentally and emotionally much deeper than my father had, he was spending time, energy, and attention on cultivating friendship with me in which he was relaxed, warm, and reliably kind in attitude, action, and word. This, of course, I lapped up. Who wouldn’t?

One could say that LRH was behaving towards me as a father would have had that theoretical father wanted to cultivate a friendship with his son. I don’t believe that LRH had any intention to play a father role but the lack in my life of a supportive adult male, which LRH may or may not have perceived, made his friendly and relaxed interacting meaningful to me and drew me into a closer purposefulness in my work for him. I’m sure he was sensitively aware that I had serious sensitivities that were not altogether under my control.

His support also invited me to feel that I was proving myself of use and value to someone but moreover to one who had been a demi-god to me in earlier times (becoming more human now, but still redolent of god-ness). And, as anyone with eyes could see, not a demi-god to ever suffer a fool gladly. I lived and worked, with some value to him, under his very eye and in the midst of his family; there was little or nothing about me or my work that, had I wanted to, I could have hidden from him. I was working hard, very hard at times, for this man who could be a severe taskmaster, and he was letting me know that my work was good for him.

By the end of my first month his approval was clear. He told me with obvious gratification that I had taken some tasks off his plate. When he announced, with a printed issue, to the whole of his organization at Saint Hill that I was now the “Household Officer,” we all understood that I’d succeeded in my probation as “butler-valet”. LRH was giving me and my position a little added dignity, taking it somewhat out of the realm of ‘servant.’ The move gave me some parity and community with the regular Scientologists working at Saint Hill, none of whom had anything to do with the household. [“Officer” was a regular title for certain positions in the Scientology organization.] Soon thereafter, he wrote out a list of nearly thirty household tasks, some of them quite substantial, that he wanted me to complete by the end of the month just beginning.  When I handed in the list with “Done” marked against all but one or two at the end of the month, not thinking too much of the achievement, since nothing had turned out to be terribly difficult, he congratulated me, smiling broadly. He liked having actions done and got out of the way, and without complications. Not too many employers object to that.

 

By coming to Saint Hill Manor I’d walked myself into a serious test.  The result so far, a couple of months into my new life, was a milestone in my existence: for the first time since I was a boy in Scotland, I could feel a spine to my back and a spring to my step: I had actually stumbled upon a real place for me in real purposeful Life with real and really purposeful people. L. Ron Hubbard was indeed a real person. Mary Sue also; she was real in her initial antagonism and in her watchful waiting for me to prove myself or to lose myself. Both had clearly defined their places in Life and were actively pursuing purposes they believed in; both had clear points to make to Life. I had not come cross this kind of clarity and certainty other than in or through Nature, and I loved finding it. in these two people and in those supporting them.

And some of those confident, happy, and busy Scientology executives working at Saint Hill were coming to accept me as one of their own.

 

© Kenneth G. Urquhart 2017

 

Memories, 09: Rubbings of Elbows, Part Two

Rubbings of Elbows

Part 2 of 3

 

Ron Hubbard and I were within a few days thereafter quite amicable. He became cheery and briefly chatty with me when I took him his daily hot chocolate. At the evening meals he happily acknowledged this or that as satisfactory or even good. On the whole I followed the menu given me but when I could I used something I’d learned from my experiences in restaurants and in my own cooking. For example, when an escalope of veal was ordered, I made an asparagus sauce from one particular restaurant. When a fruit salad was the dessert, I cut out a fancy lid from the top of a melon, emptied the melon, made the fruit salad, put it in the body of the melon and replaced the fancy top. He enjoyed this when I carried it into the dining room and called for Mary Sue to admire it too. I was conservative in my responses to him, not wanting to appear too eager for encouragement and careful not to make Mary Sue feel I was making too much headway with him for her comfort.

The lady of the house remained tight-lipped and while no longer sending her jagged silent lightning-bolts in my direction was by no means smiley or even taking much notice. Whenever LRH said something nice to me at the table, she was silent, whether agreeing or not: judgment decisively reserved. However, since Mary Sue was not actually attacking me, I saw no reason to make a problem for myself out of her attitude. Absence of attack was in itself a big step forward.

Thus, by the end of the week, I could feel that I might create a presence in the household of use and value. I had no idea of how my relationship with Mary Sue would develop but she seemed to be slowly sheathing her knives. With luck on my side she should increasingly perceive me as no threat to her husband’s or her own well-being or to that of the children. So far, the master himself showed no signs of scene-changing discontent and my confidence on that side increased.

 

With regard to the four Hubbard children, Diana, Quentin, Suzette, and Arthur, I confess that I never accepted as much responsibility for them as I did for their father (and, because of him, for his wife). My very first response in considering the idea of working in the household had been to return to LRH something out of what he had given me. This intention centred on his person. The person of his wife was something I wanted to serve as well as I could for her sake but basically for his. I am sorry to say that the persons of his children were on my periphery and I did not pay them the attention I could have. Their meals and their Governess service were not high on my priorities. I could have done better for them in the matter of cooking attractive and enjoyable meals. When I was on cooking duty my focus was on their parents and so the children’s needs in the awkward scheduling were to me, I have to confess (and, in recalling it here, with a disappointment in myself), something of a distraction. I liked the children very much but their close relationship with their mother, who kept a vigilant eye on them, the presence of their Governess and Nanny, and their evident happiness as they ran about the place, allowed me, I considered, to leave them much to their mother, the Governess and Nanny, and themselves. Had LRH mentioned something on the subject I would have adjusted my ideas instantly; had MSH held something against me on account of the children, she would have lit a fire under me or their father, or both. As I didn’t hear anything about how I served the children I didn’t think to bring them a little added happiness through my performance of duties during my service in their household. I could well have and I regret not doing it.

 

The new cook duly arrived, reducing the pressure on my time and energy. She was young, perhaps a few years younger than I, capable, clean, reliable, quiet, a steady performer. Mary Sue soon became attached to her – and she, Mary Sue, began to relax towards me.

LRH’s clothes and accessories occupied more of my attention. He did not dress flashily but in accordance with his own relaxed dignity. He had a habit of wearing his unbuttoned shirt collar (white, aertex, soft cotton, starched), with ascot in place, outside of his jacket collar or cardigan when he wore one, something which I accepted as an Americanism. The emphatic style, with bright collar against a darker cardigan or sweater or jacket, not usual in English country houses (as far as I could know), did not sit awkwardly on him; his whole presence was obviously American and thoroughly un-English. He was not one whit abashed at being obviously a not-English proprietor of a thoroughly English small country house.

Although generously adequate, his wardrobe was not otherwise large. Its quality was on the better side of average, with nothing noticeably superior or decidedly formal except for a couple of coloured silk dinner jackets I knew he wore at some public Scientology events. Although interested enough in his own appearance to have adopted a style expressive of his self-respect as a person, as the leader of a group, and as proprietor of a lovely manor, he was not fascinated enough with his appearance to call attention to it or to the money he spent on it. He did not socialize with the neighbours and spent little time away from the Manor and its grounds.

In my early days at Saint Hill, I took my Saturday day off in London, that city still the fascinating centre of the universe for me, be the demands of Saint Hill what they might. Besides, I didn’t yet have any connections locally beyond the Manor. LRH of course knew I was going to London and one time he told me that if I saw any ascot I thought he would like I was to buy it. It was good to have reason to go into the nicer shops in London; he was happy with my ascots especially the blue ones I’d get at Liberty’s. Certain blues suited him very well.

 

© Kenneth G. Urquhart, 2017

 

Memories, 08: Rubbings of Elbows, Part One

Rubbings of Elbows

Part 1 of three

 

In my first few days at the Manor I saw LRH only at the dinner table where reserve still ruled the day. During these mornings, when not tied to the kitchen stove, I explored the spare bathroom off the first floor landing which, I’d been told, was where I was to look after his clothes. This bathroom adjoined his quarters, so I was careful not to make noise that would disturb his sleep. It was a drab, narrow, high-ceilinged room, not having had a coat of paint—nor, perhaps, a good wash-down—in a number of years. There were planks across the tub and an ironing board awkwardly wedged against a basin by the window and opposite the door. A set of shelves by the wall across from the bath and just inside the door held his shoes and boots. Not a place for cats who like to be swung [not that there were any cats in the establishment to swing]. The window overlooked the drive at the front of the house, the other side from terrace, park, and lake view.

I began to brush and press the clothes from the previous day, cleaning the shoes, and so on. On the Wednesday, I was doing some cleaning of the sink and other available parts of the room, and I wore rubber gloves as my hands don’t always enjoy being wet. To my surprise, the master came in all at once, and in his nightshirt and flip-flops. More than a little flustered, and worrying that I had disturbed him, I tore off the rubber gloves so he could see he had my full and respectful attention. But there was a tiny hole in the left glove and as it came off some water splashed about. I felt awkward. He saw that.

“Oh,” he exclaimed, “look what I made you do!” He said it in such a way that we could both smile, and I no longer felt awkward with him about the water or about anything. He went straight into explaining to me what he wanted me to do with his clothes and shoes. It was not complicated, nor was he in any way demanding anything extraordinary. He wasn’t in demanding mode. It was a simple job with mostly simple tasks and he explained his needs simply. He didn’t go into any other duties than the clothes-valeting. When he’d finished he went back to his bedroom.

What with my sensitivities about myself, his small act of kindness in putting me at my ease struck me forcefully. Its spontaneity told me that in the moments leading up to his coming into the valet room he had not been harbouring serious questions about my acceptability. He did not speak from any cloud of antagonism. This was the first indicator, and to me a clear one, that my footing with him was not in immediate danger. I could for the moment know that my service was as yet not judged unsatisfactory, my presence not as yet unwanted.

The gesture affirmed what I’d sensed in our first handshake, that here was a man capable of a kind of friendship I’d not known before, the possibility of which became immensely attractive. Now, what has been said about my history will possibly indicate that I was starved of friendship and in desperate need of it. In a sense, I was starved of friendship, but not of general and usual comradeship. The deep, spiritual friendship I’d had as a wee boy with Nature in Scotland, and the comfort of the easy-going relationship with my relaxed grandparents, were cancelled out by depression in the years after leaving Scotland; one result of the depression was that I regarded my separation from Nature and her love as categorically final, irredeemable. My childhood, perhaps childish, conclusion that no human existed who could parallel Nature’s love remained with me as strong as ever up until the moment in which I shook L. Ron Hubbard’s hand.

In that moment I certainly did not compare him with the hills and rocks and all things natural that I’d known in Scotland, nor was I thinking of love of any kind. To my heart my “inanimate” hills and rocks had their own life in them, their own personalities, their own purposes in Life, their own points to make. And they included me in their world. They were sacred to me because they were honest about who they are, and out of that honesty, accepting of me. Their quiet strengths connected me to Truth and Serenity beyond anything my physical senses showed me and utterly beyond what my adult humans had shown they were capable of. [This is not to speak ill of them; they were not bad people and they were doing what they thought, correctly or not, was what they were supposed to do in their situations.]

The life I felt within LRH was the life certainly of a human being, different in character from the life in hills and rocks and all things natural. At the same time, there was an honesty about L. Ron Hubbard as well as a strength and directness that spoke clearly to me of expansive empathy, and there was an energy about him that seemed familiar with Truth and Serenity. Thus, I was drawn into wanting to experience more of him.[1]

 

By the time of our valet-room meeting, I’d been at Saint Hill Manor, LRH’s home, for some days with no signs that my continued stay there was confirmed. This didn’t knock me off my stride; I had a feeling I’d come to where I would settle for a while, a feeling I was prepared to trust and to stand by until any negativity became irresistible. I hadn’t had any prior interaction with LRH in which to establish positivity, but in these few days there had been only the one interaction in which hostility was present and seemed set to continue—Mary Sue’s initial ‘welcome’ and her subsequent coldness.

The splashing of some water in the valet-room settled any doubts as to the immediate future.

 

© Kenneth G. Urquhart, 2017

 

[1] To answer the question inevitable in this day and age: My relationship with L. Ron Hubbard was never at any time more intimate than friendship, and entirely lacking in any sexual resonance.

 

Memories, 07

Pushing Out the Boat

Part Three of Three

 

Although I’d hired myself to be the ‘butler’, here I was being the cook. Well, it was for just six days. The man’s clothes could be made ready the day before; the production of food for several people is generally governed by today’s clock and by inescapable mealtimes.

My priority for this week was that come what may, each course for each meal was to be ready for the table by the appointed time and in as decent a quality as I could manage. But whatever I was doing or whatever else I needed to do, the moment LRH rang down to the kitchen to let me know that he was up, I dropped everything to devote myself to his morning ritual. It consisted of first a cup of hot chocolate, easy enough to put together. During that week I took it up and left it on the small table in his bedroom in front of the fireplace, the man himself busy in his bathroom. I put the valet stand in the room with his clothes for the day. Returning at once to the kitchen I had to squeeze a certain number of oranges and mix into the juice one raw egg. This drink could only be prepared freshly, never in advance. I also had to cook breakfast — traditional American fare — for the master and his lady, and to serve it, with the orange juice, in his bedroom at that small table, where Mary Sue joined him for the meal, coming from her own bedroom and bathroom down the passage on the same floor.

 

Back under the merciless kitchen clock, I had to take up the business of the first evening meal (for the children, at 5.30) where I’d left off. This was to be ready for the Nanny to serve in a small dining room between the scullery and the back door of the house. At the same time, all that their parents’ meal required was also either done, in hand, or set up, so that dinner would be ready for me to serve at 6.30 – after I’d set their table in the Winter Garden at the opposite end of the house. I was hopping, not being used to the kitchen work.

No disasters in the cooking, the serving, or the schedule were brought to my attention. However, I couldn’t control everything well enough to keep the kitchen clean and tidy during my day. As a result, after serving the Hubbards’ after-dinner coffee, I returned to the kitchen and the detritus of three meal preparations and service: the sink, stove, and huge kitchen table covered in dirty pots, pans, bowls, utensils, equipment, dishes, cutlery and whatever else could manage to tumble without compassion from cupboards and shelves, drawers, and cabinets to get itself used and in need of cleaning.

Two hours or so after dinner, all was washed, dried, and put away – without the use of a dishwasher, too. Not that I cared about the dishwasher. In those days, if you had a dishwasher you had to wash the dishes before you put them in it, and that made no sense. Then to clean the stove (a large coal-fired, adorable Aga), the sinks, the table, the fridge, the dresser. Lastly, the big tiled floor, by this time seeming to have grown in extent to something on the order of an aerodrome, to sweep and mop. I knew that Mary Sue used the kitchen in the wee hours; I was not going to shoot myself in the foot by leaving her my dirty kitchen to put right. Regardless of that, I determined on my own account to finish my work for the day, and I did.

Most nights, work was done by 10.00 or 10.30 p.m. No time during work hours to worry about being undesirable to anyone; once I was abed, Sleep, in her kindly way, commanded all concern to run off and bother somebody else.

 

(c) Copyright Kenneth G. Urquhart, 2017

 

Memories, 06

Pushing Out the Boat

Part Two of Three

 

Having completed her silent cooking, Mary Sue left the kitchen without further ado. She might have said something about the serving of the meal; I recall only that wall of silence, averted eye, and severe expression. Mary Sue could do an excellent impression of a hatchet, well sharpened. At any rate, 6.30 p.m. arrived and with it the requirement to serve the meal. This I contemplated in no happy spirit. At the table I would re-encounter the great L. Ron Hubbard but for the first time as an employed servant in his house. If his wife were so unhappy with me, what cheery welcome was I to expect from him?

The trick of saying something to his face and then showing my back had worked the once. Being now actually in the Manor and at my paid work, I had to step up, take my position, perform, and produce. Thus reflecting in the kitchen, I managed to find the presence of mind to pick up the tray I’d prepared, to put one foot in front of the other in the regular manner, to serve the meal in a silence I kept attentively neutral — or at any rate quietly and markedly free of disrespect towards my new and strangely subdued employers, leaving them to their salt and steaks. A good thing that she had pushed me out of the way to cook them — layers of salt, indeed.

There was no bell on the table and no house phone in the dining room. I went back after several minutes to see if my services were needed. Again the cold and empty silence. The master of the house sat at table a little to the right as I entered the dining room, she with her back to me. He lifted his face in my direction and complained rather sadly that the steak was too salty. He’d left a lot of it on his plate, while she was eating hers up. Here I was, seriously put upon. I had to respond at once to his quiet protest – fleetingly wondering why he wasn’t shouting about his ruined meal but also asking myself what I could say in place of what was rattling in my head, demanding I blurt it out: “I’m not a bit surprised. She cooked it in half a pound of salt.

Well, Mary Sue did the decent thing, all credit to her, immediately telling him that she was the guilty party. That she did so in my presence struck me as honest and a welcome positive note. He accepted it silently, and, still lugubrious in manner, motioned for me to remove the plates. Having done that, and not receiving any orders to put a substitute before him, I served the dessert ordered, a dessert so ordinary I remember it only for its numbing lack of imagination. Surreal, suspenseful silence dragged on, second by watchful second. I served coffee — instant coffee, at that — in the sitting-room just by the dining-room where their four young children in pyjamas joined them for an hour or so of TV and whatever else they all did together in that after-dinner time.

Nothing further was said about the meal. Nor was anything taken up that evening about my undesirable character or record, or any other reason for the lack of welcome into the house. I cleaned up and went to bed wondering what had brought this day to a denouement so disappointing if not disastrous. I had to suspect, from the silence swamping the dining table, that they hadn’t spoken much to each other. Yet they had sat at their dinner together; had he not thought to mention to her, his wife, that his steak was too salty for him to eat? Had she not had time to notice that he, her husband, wasn’t eating his dinner? Was I the cause of some rift between them? Had I eagerly forced my way into a madhouse? This was not what I’d expected at the very peak and pinnacle of Scientology. What was tomorrow to bring?

 

The Hubbards, working through the night, had their breakfast when he woke up and phoned down to the kitchen, usually around mid-afternoon, give or take an hour or two. Or three. I never saw an alarm clock in his possession so I assumed he slept till he awoke; I never knew of Mary Sue being up and about before him, except on Saturdays. The two of them had their dinner at 6.30 p.m. regardless of the breakfast hour, and she would prepare and serve a light meal for them on a tray in the small hours. The Hubbard children and the staff present with them had regular hours: breakfast at 8.30 a.m., lunch at 12.30 p.m., late meal at 5.30 p.m. The Nanny ate at each meal, the Governess and Housekeeper at lunch. [I recall that the Hubbards and the children were at the table together only on major holidays.] I got through that first week and I don’t recall a moment’s idleness. Nor did any quarrel with me blow up in my face.

In the mornings, I explored his wardrobe and the valet’s room upstairs. My afternoons were hectic. I’d clean and tidy the kitchen after lunch so I could plan the preparation for the two evening meals, and take up whatever preparation needed starting right away. Nothing on the weekly menu given to me was fancy; everything on it came from two then-modern American cookery books, one of which was the inescapable Joy of Cooking. Although I was light years away from being a good cook — let alone a joyful one — I really did not approve of any recipe that called for one to open a tin of soup as one of the ingredients. If the dish required mushrooms, I preferred to do the mushrooms from scratch. To use a tin of mushroom soup felt close to cheating. What’s wrong with a little bit of work?

(c) Copyright Kenneth G. Urquhart, 2017

Memories, 05

Pushing Out the Boat

Part One of Three

 

I moved into my top-floor room at Saint Hill Manor, overlooking its terrace and lake, on a Saturday in June of 1963. It was the middle weekend of Wimbledon. I enjoyed watching the matches on TV and as my new daily schedule didn’t include TV time, I abandoned the tennis with a little regret.  Before I left London for good I got word from Saint Hill that the new cook expected at the Manor on the same day as me would not be arriving until a week later. They asked me to cook until she started work. I hadn’t bargained for this and didn’t relish it but felt I could cope, and agreed.

The furniture in my room was adequate: behind the door, a single bed (or ‘twin’ in US English) against the right-hand wall. It had a candlewick bedspread in a quite attractive rusty-salmon colour. I don’t recall much of the chest of drawers or of a wardrobe/closet, and nothing of the curtains or the carpet. The room as a whole was not distinguished but somebody had put it together with care for pleasant comfort. I’d occasionally lived in much worse in London and — now being a servant — I had come with no expectations of luxury; just to live in the Manor was an adventure in itself. The view from the window was the room’s great gift: quietly lovely Sussex farming countryside with plenty of trees in addition to the Manor’s park and wooded lake. The house sat on one side of a valley; the hills opposite were as though quilted, not at all rough.

On the Sunday morning after my arrival I began work in the kitchen under the wing of one of the Hubbard’s live-out maids who had been helping with the cooking. She gave me the basic dos and don’ts, including a menu for the week’s meals. An important point was that Doctor Hubbard was to have no tap water nor anything cooked in it as the local water upset his system. I was to use bottled Malvern water [taken from a famous spring in the Malvern Hills in England] instead. I recall no other details of the maid’s briefing. She prepared and served the Hubbards’ breakfast, I remaining in the kitchen, and then left.

My first day passed uneventfully until it came time to prepare dinner for Doctor and Mrs. Hubbard. The menu given me was for a starter, something like tomato cocktail, followed by fillet steaks with vegetables and salad. According to the accompanying recipe I was to cover the base of a heavy pan with a layer of salt and then to cook the steaks on high heat without fat or oil. This was strange to me and I wondered how the steaks would turn out when ready to go to the table and how I’d turn out after putting them on the table.

As the hour arrived at which I had set the places and should start to cook the steaks, at that very moment into the kitchen, silent and unannounced, came Mary Sue Hubbard, the lady of the house. Ignoring me entirely, she proceeded to cook the steaks according to the strange recipe. She also saw to the frozen vegetables but my memory of this, our first meeting, is a little vague, overshadowed by the hostility Mary Sue made no effort to hide or to explain. I supposed she had made enquiries about me and heard something to be unhappy about. There could have been plenty of that kind of news — or gossip — given my history of neurotic instability in and around the London organization.

As issues about me were not goading her into a direct confrontation, the indirect confrontation left me wondering. It was not up to me to force myself on her in her own kitchen, I having only just set foot in it and as an employee. Yet she could hardly have been unaware of the insult she was offering by wordlessly indicating that my presence was a hardly bearable insult to her. I stood by ready to make myself useful with this puzzlingly hostile lady or despite her. Interested to see how this introduction of ours would work itself out, I kept myself alert to deal with whatever scene-changing eruptions might come my way. At any rate, my feet were in the house and I was not ready to move them elsewhere until an irresistible authority should give me no other option.

(c) Kenneth G. Urquhart, 2017