Is England really like Downton Abbey?

Downton Abbey has to be watched with a cup of tea. Or else it does this side of the Atlantic. I suppose it really ought to be in a porcelain or bone china cup, served by the butler with a little
jug of milk on the side and a plate of very thin, perfectly golden biscuits. But even if you don’t have the butler and a mere mug instead of cup and saucer, the tea itself is non-negotiable. I don’t know anyone here in Britain who watches Downton without one. It would be like sitting on the sofa stark naked watching TV. And in the most part we don’t do that. Even in England.

My point is really that Downton is as comforting as tea. It’s familiar and marks the season more reliably than cold weather or frost in these weirdly temperate days. Lady Mary is being blackmailed. Check. Thomas is in a huff. Mrs Hughes and Carson are having a very uncomfortable conversation. Check. Check. The nights must be drawing in. Thank goodness Downton is here to console us until spring.

I know that the British always tell people in America that life here really isn’t like Downton. And it isn’t. Well mostly it isn’t. Sometimes, oddly, it sort of is. I was doing the washing up in my orange marigold gloves a couple of days ago (not very Downton, as I was doing it myself, up to my elbows in suds) but then the Portman Hunt rode past my kitchen window with a score of thundering horses, riders in red coats and jodhpurs and the whoop of hounds and the cry of the hunting horn. That bit was rather Downton, I’m sure you’d agree.

Here in Dorset we have Milton Abbey. The village of Milton Abbey is exquisitely pretty as the landlord decided in the eighteenth century that the houses were in the way of the lake he wanted, so he flooded them and built a new village downwind. Lord Grantham would never do such an unkind thing to his tenants. Real British landlords could be rather loathsome to the?ir tenants. Poor Daisy gets off rather lightly in episode one when she berates a neighbouring landlord who’s taken over and given the tenants notice. Lucky that she works for Lord and Lady Grantham of Downton Abbey rather than the former proprietor of Milton Abbey. She might have ended up at the bottom of the lake rather than with a tidy scolding from Carson.

The great house at Milton Abbey is now a very smart school. The school chapel is the former abbey church. We walked around it on Sunday morning listening to the organist practising for the evening and then visited the gardens of the great house at Kingston Maurward. We had to buy our own tea in Styrofoam cups. But it was raining and the man behind the till brought us a bowl of chocolates because he felt bad about it. Commiserating over lousy weather, now that is very Downton indeed.