That was an unqualified success. The orchestra (LSO) and the band (some popular beat combo called Kaiser Patrol or something - I couldn't get Cardinal Sin and the Bum Notes) arrived mid- afternoon and set up their equipment at opposite ends of the ball room. There was a bit of a fracas over the power provision but Fellows laid on an additional generator and everyone was happy... though the cacophony during their simultaneous sound checks was unbelievable.
There was a lull before the storm. The staff retreated below stairs for a light supper and their instructions. Fellows went off to light the torches along the drive. The Memsahib and I retired to our dressing rooms to prepare. Persephone and Arabella were getting quite excited and rushing about sampling the nibbles and trying to get their hands on the Champers. Tarquin remained in his room deciding to make his entrance to his own time schedule.
The guests started to arrive - we didn't want this to be too ostentatious so we limited it to a few hundred of our closest (titled) friends. The Lord High Sheriff was first to arrive (as usual) and after effusive greetings he headed straight to a corner near the bar and was not seen to rise again until the fireworks. Other guests soon followed - in fact there was a traffic queue stretching right down the drive and through the village. We had laid on light refreshments for the chauffeurs down at the stable block - but there were so many cars we had to turn over one of the paddocks for additional parking. (It was like a damned pop concert - without the burger vans, mud and nudity).
The Duchess arrived. She's a game old bird. After the incident with the ice "cube" last year, and the croquet injury during the summer we feared she may not be up to another outing, but there she was in all her finery with several handsome young footmen in tow. The Duke came separately (he'd been in the country on a shoot so came straight to us).
The ball went off almost without incident - though people had been most inventive with their masks. Who would have though that the Venetians would come up with a Cherie Blair mask - and that a mask that delicate could contain such a vast hinged mouth without breaking. Two chaps came in George Clooney masks and were mistaken for me throughout the evening. A stocky chap with a strange gutteral accent had an interesting mask, but one eye seemed out of sync. I have no idea who he was but people kept pointing at him and muttering about "Gordon" - he seemed to be shunned by all except the MPs who'd turned up. One young filly with a Kylie Minogue mask shed her ball gown to reveal tight gold lame hot pants which seemed to gain a number of hand prints throughout the evening (lesson to be learned here is reagrding greasy food and a finger buffet). It was interesting to see the counter-balance between the LSO and the band, and more specifically to see the Duchess and several well-known names "shaking their booty" as I believe it is called. I was surprised to see one well known Member of Parliament spending an inordinate amount of time talking to one of the Duchess's footmen - I hadn't realised he was one of his constituents.
The various ice sculptures lasted well, and none but the family understood the significance of the Venus de Milo. At one point Tarquin saw a young Baronet talking to block of ice that had been sculpted into Margaret Thatcher and apparently he kept lurching off and bringing back shots of whiskey for her and cajoling her for not keeping up. Some tall lanky bloke (in jeans, would you believe) and curly hair kept trying to open the door of an ice model of some Bugatti or other claiming there was a hamster inside.
At midnight we heard the chimes of Big Ben through the wireless and then gathered on the terrace for the fireworks. Our lasers were switched on and carved open the night sky (first time since the incident with the planes - but Air Traffic Control had been warned to stay clear) . Rockets ripped the night and fountains of coruscating light bathed the house and the guests. Light and shade is the trick to keeping their interest so we allowed them to die away and then build up to a crescendo again and again. Finally, spewing a luminescent smoke trail, the Red Arrows screamed up the drive and split over the terrace to head east, west and north, to loop round and deliver a timed pattern of Hellfire missile to the lower field - removing the old barn in the process and providing the earthworks that I need for the new cascade. As they approached the house in close formation, they lit their afterburners and climbed almost vertically into the night and disappeared.
Now that was a display!
It took another few hours for everyone to disperse and the staff to clear away. No ambulances were needed this year and the Estate Fire Engine was dismissed. Once the guests had gone we returned to our quarters and left the staff to it.