- Food and Cooking
Some of the things that really horrify me
THE DINNER PARTY
I want you to imagine, Gentle Reader, a scene, not unfamiliar to any civilised person.
I put myself into this scene, hoping that I may elicit some compassion fro; some understanding of, my horrors, when, like an enveloping mist, I feel the most dreadful feelings of déjà vu and I know, once again, like a recurring spectre of the night, a nightmare again will appear, as those who watched with horror and terror as that Prophetic Hand wrote on the wall at that sadly remembered Feast of Balshazzar.
I am at a dinner party where I am really enjoying myself.
The table, the silver cutlery and flatware, the sparkling white linen and china, the centre pieces, flowers and arrangements are beyond luxurious, yet they still maintain absolutely the last word in good taste.
Everyone is exquisitely dressed; either fashionably or interestingly esoterically or outrageously eclectically and the manners and conversation are being conducted in the best of possible taste, albeit with a modicum of acceptable raunchiness, dictated by the most well bred, of hostesses with the most circumspect, yet deliciously naughty sense of humour.
The wines, champagnes and liqueurs have been chosen to compliment the wonderfully adventurous but also superb food and also to appeal to my discerning palate to a remarkably clever and perfect degree.
The meal has been wonderful. The guests seem to have been picked by someone who really has read, and understood, the book: ‘Twenty People I would Love to Meet before I Die’ (Written by me, and available in a lovely Embossed Green Moroccan Leather-Bound Edition at all the smartest, best and most worthwhile and reputable bookshops in the Civilised World).
Is your mind beginning to wander?
Fear not, Gentle Reader, I am simply creating the mise en scene so that the denouement of this little tale will have the greater impact.
I am sitting between the two most beautiful, intelligent and charming people I have met for many a year. They represent both the Staff and the Distaff side of the human race.
She is so gorgeous that I find it almost impossible to believe that anybody could show such perfection of face, grace, charm and figure.
He is stunningly handsome but with the look that says that he isn’t even aware of his elegance and shining beauty.
Both of them are fascinated by my persona, my conversation, my charming and sometimes racy little anecdotes of my fascinatingly misspent life.
Both of them hang on my words and are enthralled by my presence, and I feel that either or both of them would love to drag me away to a secluded and ravishingly decadent boudoir or somewhere similar and have their wicked way (or ways) with me... With me and my hardly protesting body and, or indeed, mind.
Together or separately, I neither know nor care.
The almost ethereally elegant and wonderful dinner draws to a close, with the most subdued and intelligent conversations gradually leaving the thoughts and minds of all at that sumptuous arranged table. The liqueurs, the brandies, the Armagnac and the coffee arrive almost magically.
Marrons Glacés, Rahat Loukhoum and the most decadently delicious Petits Fours lie before our visually satiated eyes and then, perhaps, seek refuge on our lips and tongues and we are transported into an exquisitely wicked postprandial lethargy.
Everything, as I have attempted to convey, is perfect, and then comes the bombshell.
And then, some woman, who up to the very second before has appeared to be intelligent, cultured, stacked to the top of her wonderfully coiffured head with panache and style; this particular woman who has appeared to be of exceptionally good breeding and connected to the Best, the Right Families, lets fall from her perfect lips, the most frighteningly dreadful words I have ever heard.
I have heard these words before, and shuddered at them too many times before, as any well brought up civilised person must surely shudder:
Well of course I shudder when I hear those words. Those words which, by their very cruel and evil utterance must surely be the wicked arms and shoulders that would, Samson like, seek to push down the pillars that uphold the very best that is Good Taste and the Standards of Behaviour that govern the whole of Civilised Society.
I have heard this sentence, with many permutations. And no doubt I will hear them again, but they will have and always will be some of the most frighteningly morbid collection of words ever uttered.
I told you about the feeling of déjà vu, earlier on, didn’t I?
Of course I did, and here I was in the same situation.
It was a couple of weeks ago. I was dining, as described above, at the home of a very well known hostess, known for her wonderful dinner parties, Caroline Beste-Holme.
The woman I referred to; the awful creature who uttered the words that I am about to relay to you, Gentle Reader, turned to her fellow guests and proclaimed, in the most vile way that anybody has ever spoken:
“Dear Caroline has given us all such a lovely time with this splendid dinner party. I am sure she has slaved over a hot stove for hours to produce all this; to feed us so well. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all repaid the compliment by doing the washing up for her?”
Won’t it be lovely if we all repay the compliment by doing the washing up for her?
The ghastly woman raked the assembled guests with a malignant eye as if to challenge anybody not to agree with her horrendous suggestion.
There it was again. That dreadful after-dinner suggestion that everyone would love to do the washing up for his or her hostess.
Now let me assure you that I am made of sterner stiff and can face the vicissitudes of life as well as the next man, but not all of us are lucky enough to exhibit bravery in the face of such an awful situation.
I distinctly heard the sound of my very dear friend, Mrs Hilda Plantagenet-Featheringstonehaugh as that poor lady fainted at the thought of a dishcloth. Luckily she remained upright, as she was encouraged to do as a child, and nobody noticed except for myself.
One or two of the better bred guests shuffled uneasily on their plush dining chairs, but seemed to lack the courage to challenge the suggestion.
Others directed frightened glances in he direction of our hostess, Caroline, but inexplicably, Caroline's attention appeared to be taken by the frosting on the Marrons Glacés held between her well manicured fingers.
Once more the deranged dinner guest raked the assembled ladies and gentlemen with her spiteful eyes and malevolently repeated, between clenched teeth:
“Won’t it be lovely if we all muck in and do the washing up?”
I rose to my feet, and looking her straight in the eye, said as calmly and as carefully as I was brought up to say,
“I have a dishwasher in my home and have never felt the need to wash a plate or spoon in my life.
“What do you think this is, woman? A Boy Scouts’ Camp? Are you Akela, or one of the other animals fabricated in the disturbed mind of Rudyard Kipling?”
She gazed at me venomously, a snarl beginning to disfigure her already unattractive visage.
Swords drawn - well, cutlery, at least.
She realised she had met her match. But as a last resort, she turned to Caroline, who by now had allowed her mind to gaze to centre on another of the Petits Fours.
“Caroline!” barked the awful woman, all semblance of refinement and class slipping magically away, “Shall we all wash up?”
Caroline raised a troubled gaze, and her face bore the most tragic expression of any London Society Hostess I have seen in my life.
“Oh Heaven’s above!” I thought, and the awful truth hit me like a thunderbolt. Almost as if I, also, had read the writing on the wall which had so unnerved that chap Balshazzar so very long earlier.
Caroline didn’t have a dishwasher... and neither perhaps, had the Dreadful Dinner Guest. No wonder they thought nothing of washing up. They probably didn’t even have any permanent staff. I couldn’t remember seeing any servants apart from a couple of foreign chaps in waiters’ uniforms.
But now the undeniably appalling truth grasped my soul, and I felt the panic rising within my breast.
“What was I doing there, among those people? How could I associate with any of them? And what is more, how could I escape from their company?
But help was at hand in the form of a true and trusted friend. A true and well bred and thoroughly Well Connected friend.
My dear friend, Hilda Plantagenet-Featheringstonehaugh, rose carefully from her seat where she had lain in a swoon from hearing the dreadful words “WASHING UP” and placing a genteel and perfectly manicured hand of my arm, turned to Caroline and said,
“Thanks awfully. One has had a wonderful evening. But one has to go; it’s getting late. By the way, dear, the plover was a trifle underdone, and may I suggest you try Fortnum & Masons for your Petits Fours next time. They’re far less sticky.”
As I was helping Mrs Plantagenet-Featheringstonehaugh to put on her cloak in the hall, she turned towards the glass and arranging her hair carefully, said,
“Perhaps we could ask Raj to drive us to a very smart little Café and Bar one knows. They serve a delicious coffee there that will surprise you. Kopi Luwak. So, so much nicer than that ghastly coffee that Caroline wanted to poison us with.
“Ah! “ I murmured, “Kopi Luwak. That will do nicely.”