Welcome to Day 1 of the Virtual Launch of A Humble Companion. Feel free to stay as long as you like or, if you’re busy, just say hello, grab a vol-au-vent and run.
Today we have a bit of genuine 18th century cookery, some music, and a lovely nostalgic piece by best-selling novelist and all-round Good Egg, Paul Magrs. But first we’re honoured with a few hesitant words from HRH Princess Sophia of Hanover.
A party? I can’t remember the last time I went into company. What if everyone is making clever literary allusions? Don’t you think it would better to let sister Minny go in my place? She adores a soiree and Billy Gloucester’s at home this week so she’d be glad of an excuse to stay in Town. I really have nothing to wear. This velvet makes me so hot I look like a boiled pudding. Would the lemon muslin be suitable? I could pin a brooch over the grease stain. Or wear my lilac spenser over it, to give it a touch more consequence. But what about my spectacles? If I wear them everyone will think me a fright, and if I don’t wear them I won’t be able to see a hand in front of my face.
I just don’t know. Is Darling Majesty going? If he’ll attend, I will. It would do him good to get up and put on a clean shirt. Last week he said he couldn’t squeeze his feet into his shoes but surely the remedy for that is to order larger shoes. But then, if the Queen intends going He certainly won’t attend. Great heavens, he’d sooner have a tooth pulled. And Caroline, you know, grows quite overstrung if brandy punch is served. Actually, they both do, but it seems to act upon her with greater speed.
It’s all so very delicate. I should rather like to see HM Queen but Darling Majesty would be furious if he thought I’d gone out of my way to do it. So any meeting would have to be quite inadvertent. It would have to seem that I’d simply wished to pay my compliments to the authoress and then been all astonishment when HMQ made her entrance. If you really think the muslin would be suitable.
Now, will this writer expect me to have read her book? Tell me again its title and give me a pleasant remark to make to the author, something that hints at my having read the book without setting in motion a more detailed discussion that might find me wanting. And please write it all down for I shall never remember so many things.
Oh, and earrings. Hoops or snaps?
And now… ice cream, courtesy of Mr Jack Buzzard, Master Confectioner of Oxford Street.
RECEIPT FOR VARIOUS ICES AS PROPOSED AT THE SIGN OF THE PINK LEMON
Put 4 ounces of preserved ginger chopped fine into a bason. Mix with two gills, which is to say half a pint of sugar syrup and the juice of one lemon. Add the mixture to 1 pint of good thick cream and churn in a freezing pot. Very pleasant with a compote of prunes.
Press 1 pint of hulled sweet strawberries through a hair sieve. Stir in 4 ounces of powdered sugar and 1 pint of heavy cream. Churn till frozen. Lady Lockyer always orders this with chocolate wafers but ratafia biscuits would do just as well.
BROWN BREAD ICE
Rasp 2 good handfuls of brown bread into a pan with hot melted butter and as much sugar as will lay on a half-crown. Stir it about until the crumbs are caramelised. Set them aside to cool. Beat a pint of thick cream till it hangs from the whisk. Add the candied bread crumbs and churn in a freezing pot. Viscount Riddle enjoyed this served with baked lady apples.
So grab a spoon and tuck in, while Paul Magrs wanders down memory lane…
Newton Aycliffe in 1979 was all dark, blocky council houses arranged in complicated patterns, with main roads strung between, lit by pinkish lamps. New Year’s Eve that year, everyone was coming to ours. Usually it was so quiet, just my Mam, stepfather and me. It was my father’s side who were gregarious and raucous; whose houses were all cigarette smoke and shouting.
But at the end of the 1970s no party was as good as ours. We had punch, lemonade and Warninks Advocaat; homemade sausage rolls, Birds Trifle, pineapple hedgehogs, hot dogs and strange Dutch pastries, deep-fried in oil and powdered with sugar. We had Dutch and Australian people. We had Dr Hook, Hot Chocolate, ‘I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper’ and James Last’s endless medleys for non-stop boogying.
The Dutch aunts looked like Russian Dolls, gliding about and fussing with paper plates. They brought all the women long, patterned dresses that looked very sophisticated as they bopped in our L-shaped living room. (All except Molly, who mistakenly wore hers around her neck so that, when she arrived late, she looked like a wonky lampshade and showed two pale, hefty knees. My stepdad’s father, a blunt ex-commando, barked out laughing: ‘That’s not how you’re supposed to look in them bloody skirts!’)
There was a singalong – I noted excitedly in my new Letts Page-a-Day – and everyone sang ‘There’s a Hole in my Bucket’, ‘The Fog on the Tyne’ and ‘Auld Lang’s Syne.’
Even my Big Nanna – not always given to merriment – was there, tipsy on sherry, with two high spots of red on her cheeks. She tottered off up Arncliffe Place to see the religious murals Molly was painting on rolls of unused wallpaper.
It was the last time that particular combination of people were together. Laughing and drinking and smoking in the front room. I don’t think we ever had a party like it ever again. But I can see echoes of it in all the parties I’ve been involved in throwing ever since. And in all the novels I’ve thrown, too. The odd assortment of guests; the passion for retro stuff circa 1979; the unlikeliest people dancing to raucous and jarringly eclectic music. And the silverskin onions on sticks and the sweet, cold wine. And, quite often, the confessions and revelations in the kitchen, the introducing of amazing characters to one another, some kind of very dramatic scene going on in the hallway and something unbelievable occurring in the dark back garden.
Well, if you’re still not in a party mood after that, click here, turn your sound on and enjoy a bit of a period bop.
Tomorrow the party continues with contributions from Dick Morphew, Coachman to the Humble Companion, and from Ernest, a Gloucester Old Spot boar who’ll be giving us a pig’s perspective on parties. There’ll also be a handy video on how to get dressed, 18th century-style, and a few words from another member of the Royal Family. Security considerations prevent me from saying more.
And before you go, don’t forget to leave a message in the Guest Book. You have to be in it to win it.