Virginia Barton

18 August 2017: The Dinner Party Book


18 August 2017


Is a Visitor’s Book still a popular wedding present these days? We were given one but I kept forgetting to put it out in our modest guest room, and before long forgot it altogether.

My eldest sister kept hers up (I was going to say religiously but I mean meticulously) and I studied it every time I stayed with them, and discovered my younger self and a great many other younger selves, mellowing as the years went by, including my own BH.

Talking of which, I’d like to know who’s walked off with my Dinner Party book? You may well ask who on earth would want a diary of breakfasts, lunches, teas and dinners? Me, actually. It was very useful for checking who came when, and what they ate and drank.

Sometimes a cryptic comment crept in, such as:

“Golly what an awful evening, remind me not to ask them again!”


“Disastrous mousse. Sub’d cheese and manky fruit last min.
Inferior cheapo wine.”

And once even,

**** the creep asked to borrow money again. Refused.”


But those are the memorable quotes. Mostly the book was used to prevent the social gaffe of giving the same menu twice over within a short space of time, thus provoking the aside:

“I don’t know why Ginny gives us Invergarry Crab Cakes
every time we go to dinner; it’s not as if they were particularly nice.”


Breakfast parties were fun. There was a Club of four or five young men who came regularly. They would start the previous evening with an elaborate dinner; a black tie do in a fancy restaurant lasting several hours including three or four bottles of wine, coffee, brandy and speeches. There followed a change of clothes into something more athletic for some hazardous undertaking, devised weeks before — such as punting through a low tunnel that was strictly out of bounds; or placing some object on top of a statue of great height.

Sensibly no driving was involved, but there was a pony and trap one year I seem to remember…

A change of clothes once more, as inevitably the “adventure” always ended in the river. Petit Dejeuner to sober up took place in one of their rooms: black coffee. Each member of the Club then read aloud an Offering, composed for the occasion, followed by discussion, and awarded with a mark out of seven. This was an opportunity for a brief nap.

After that it was time to smarten up for Virginia and BH who would have a “proper” breakfast ready at eight o’clock sharp: eggs, bacon, pancakes, fresh rolls, toast and marmalade. They would tumble into our kitchen, only slightly the worse for wear; shaven, hollow-eyed, hungry, and tell us all about it; and sometimes we wished we were young again.


If I had my Dinner Party book I could tell you the name of the Club.





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