Cranford’s Battiest Moments

From the perils of eating oranges to the correct etiquette for extracting lace from a cat…



Miss Deborah Jenkyns has very definite views on many aspects of everyday life. One should not, for example, mention the word "poverty" out loud. But what about the delicate operation known as "eating an orange"? She and her sister Matty had to maintain their decorum when consuming the fruit with Mary, a fresh-faced newcomer to Cranford. The hapless Mary made the mistake of admitting she liked to suck out the juice through a hole in the rind, and Deborah was quite simply horrified by the revelation.

"My sister does not care for the expression 'suck'," Matty explained. "It is altogether too redolent of a ritual undertaken by little babies." After this appalling transgression in vocabulary, Deborah announced that they had no other option but to "repair to our rooms and consume our fruit in solitude". Quite right too.

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We have to admire Miss Matty's scrupulous attention to the smallest domestic details. Take, for example, the crucial question of how the colour of carpets can be affected by sunlight. Not something lesser beings might ever stop to think about, but then Matty isn't like the rest of us. Having purchased a new carpet, she wasted no time in protecting it from the lethal rays of the sun... by sewing together sheets of paper and laying them over the parts of the carpet directly exposed to sunlight. Now there's a tip the rest of us should strive to remember.


Not all lace is made equal. Some lace is lovingly crafted by French nuns sworn to secrecy, so that they can better concentrate on the intricacy of their embroidery. Well, that's according to Mrs Forrester, who had exactly this kind of convent-created fabric in her possession. Noticing that its colour had faded, she decided to soak it in buttermilk to revive the shade. A fine plan, only slightly scuppered when a pet cat scoffed the buttermilk... and the lace itself.

Mrs Forrester and her friend Octavia Pole commenced a frenzied race through the village to procure a "compound" to make the cat relieve itself of the lace, post-haste. "There are ladies running!" observed fellow villagers, as the women barged past baffled on-lookers yelling "There is lace at stake!" It's just a good thing the "compound" proved effective, and the lace was salvaged. (Though somewhat more off-colour than before.)

Julia McKenzie as Mrs Forrester.

Julia McKenzie as Mrs Forrester.


It's fair to say Mrs Forrester is rather fond of her cow, Bessie. So you can imagine her horror when she arrived at the field one day to find her bovine beloved had departed for places unknown. This was an emergency on the scale of ingested lace, requiring the immediate assistance of the village's burly men-folk, who were recruited into a dedicated search party.

Of course, simply marching over fields and shouting "Bessie" wasn't enough. As Major Gordon was informed, the cow was far more likely to respond if it was addressed as "Bessie Dearest". And thus we had the spectacle of fully grown military men yelling out "Bessie Dearest" to catch the errant animal's attention. Miraculously, it worked, but the poor beast was found wallowing in lime-mud, and had to have its burns covered up. The only solution was to dress Bessie in gigantic, cow-shaped pyjamas... complete with a special flap for access to her udders.


When Dr Harrison's home was burgled, it put the village on high alert, and with good reason. For all the local ladies knew, they may well have been under attack by a gang of savage marauders. Clever, savage marauders, who rode about on horses "shod with felt" to keep them silent (that was one lady's guess, anyway). Miss Pole was particularly appalled at what men are capable of. "My father was a man," she pointed out. "I think I understand the sex."

Poor Miss Pole was so concerned by the invisible criminals that she sought to stay the night at a friend's home. A plan that went awry when said friend's butler mistook HER for the thief and started firing his musket at her from his window. Eventually she ended up rapping at the door of Matty, who made the foolish error of actually answering. "Whatever were you thinking, opening the door?" Miss Pole exclaimed. "I could have been anybody! With a cutlass!"

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