I'm sure a lady such as yourself, accustomed as we all are to the vagaries and problems of obtaining good staff, will be familiar with the old saying:

She was a good cook, as good cooks go, and as good cooks go, she went.

I extend my deepest sympathy in the matter of the watery scrambled eggs and the absence of vegetables. How exceedingly tiresome for you] One doesn't need these petty annoyances in a busy life] May I, however, also remind you that cooks are the hardest of all domestic staff to find and keep. Their skills are highly prized, especially by the gentlemen of the establishment. That vulgar saying, 'The way to a man's heart is through his stomach' remains all too true, I'm afraid.

Let us take the small point first. The method for achieving perfect scrambled eggs was set out by a certain Mr Bond, James Bond, in a volume of his memoirs. The master of the household may be familiar with his exploits. Mr Bond's recipe begins: 'Take six eggs. Any fewer will merely dirty the sides of the saucepan', and goes on to stress the importance of generous quantities of butter and the vital necessity of slow cooking accompanied by ceaseless stirring. If these instructions are passed on to your next cook, the woman will hardly be able to go wrong.

My own small work on all matters of etiquette and household economy, under the heading The Servant in the Household, points out that 'the cook should pay great attention to the serving of the dishes, and everything she does should be thoroughly done and finished in appearance'. On these grounds alone, the woman you rightly dismissed fell a long way short of requirements. I wonder, Mrs de Vere Hayes, were references obtained about her? This is a tedious procedure, certainly, but in my experience very worthwhile. Only a previous employer can truly assess her competence, and even if the chicken biryani had been highly praised, you would surely have detected a lack of enthusiasm in the matter of green vegetables.

The chairman (let us have no truck with that modern abomination 'chairperson', let alone 'chair', as though we were comparing Hepplewhite with Chippendale]) - the, as I say, chairman of the industrial tribunal which, happily, found in your favour, commented that the presence of two ladies in the kitchen is 'often a recipe for disaster'. I wonder if we may discover a clue here?

Might I suggest, dear Mrs de Vere Hayes, that in future you ask the MoD to hire a competent, well-recommended person, employ her for a week on a trial basis, during which you may require her to cook your husband's favourite dishes - the scrambled eggs, the steak and kidney pie - and having reassured yourself as to the good woman's competence, that you leave her alone to get on with it?

Alternatively, of course, you might always attempt the cooking yourself. I am told it can be mastered after quite a short course of instruction at one of the many establishments which exist for that purpose.

Yours sincerely,

Lady L

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