Monday, 18 June 2012

Rain Didn't Stop Indoor Entertainment Either

It was reasonably dry yesterday and Beloved and I took ourselves off for Sunday lunch. We followed a previously admired chef and his wife to their new restaurant in an old pub, the Plough Inn at Wistanstow; whereas their previous hostelry was small and intimate, this pub is large and featureless, modernised out of all recognition. The food was mediocre. Why do English pubs insist on serving 'roast meat and two veg' on Sundays? And if you call yourself a 'dining pub' shouldn't you at least get such simple fare right? Come on, British Pub Lovers, complain! It was Father's Day, the place was busy; perhaps we were the only guests not entirely happy with the food on offer.

Continuing the pleasures detailed in the previous post I can
report that invitations to two supper parties last week provided us with food vastly superior to the Plough Inn and many other pubs. Both parties were given by single people and, coincidentally, we were joint guests with the same couple at both.  Contrary to the delightful Jane and Lance Hattat's experience, we here at Valley's End try to provide food which is entirely edible for our guests; in fact, if cooking is a problem for any reason, the host might serve a meal partly prepared by a professional and finished off  in his or her kitchen. We too reassure each other that we get together primarily for the company, rather than the food, but if these dread words are uttered at your party, you know you have failed miserably.

Andrew had invited us to dinner 'at 7.30 for 8'. I've overlooked such instructions in the past and gone for 7.45, to be on the (guessed at) safe side. This time I actually looked up Debrett's Guide to Correct Behaviour for Every Sphere of Social And Business Life, which has been sitting, more or less ignored, on my shelves for many years. And lo and behold, I did the right thing all along: 7.45 is a good time to arrive for dinner at 8. No host, including myself, has ever managed to get people away from the pre-dinner drinks sofa and to the table for the exact start of the first course; it is best to allow for another 30 minutes cooking time. Another good thing is to feed people small appetisers to mop up the alcohol, or else the start of dinner might be messier than you anticipated. You can always cut down on quantity of the individual servings later.

So what makes a good dinner party? Andrew is an excellent host, one of my favourites; his food is delicious: we had a crusted crown of lamb as a main course.  If all is well, food is actually a topic of conversation and wine labels and vintages are much admired too. "Who is your merchant?" is by no means an indiscreet question round here. However, I'd agree with Jane and Lance that the chosen company is the main ingredient for a successful evening.  You need at least one easy talker to start proceedings, in this case our Welsh Professor of History certainly was the one. He was there again at Pauline's party a few nights later, but as there were three great talkers and arguers among her guests, the evening was extremely lively. Beloved threw a concerned glance in my direction once, but I was not the only one who made his eyebrows rise. I believe that Pauline had had help preparing the food; it wasn't mentioned, of course, but we enjoyed it no less than had she cooked all of it herself, possibly more so. A stuffed salmon isn't the easiest dish to cook to perfection.

Both Andrew and Pauline are lavish dispensers of good wine, which helps to lighten inhibitions, not that the assembled guests had any to start with. As always, discussion was free and easy, not everyone agreed with everything said and it was wonderful to argue late into the night. At Pauline's, another guest and I re-fought the feminist wars of the 70s. Sue and I can never agree on modern women's attitude to feminism. Sue believes young women today to be as involved as we were, whereas I think that these women have long lost their appetite for the scrum and hanker for a life of docile domesticity. Perhaps we're both wrong and the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Literature never fails to come up, there are too many graduates of Eng. Lit. in this crowd. As Bloomsday was near, James Joyce was mentioned, and it transpired that only one person in six had read the whole of Ulysses or Finnegans Wake, and this person was Beloved, who has no formal higher education other than the study of music at the Guildhall in London. The longer people go to university and the more degrees they amass, the narrower becomes their field of interest. (Yes? Discuss)

I expect social life will quieten down for a bit now. Everybody is working towards the Open Gardens weekend at the end of June and holiday season is upon us too. If I get bored, I shall have to get out my cookery bibles and consult my diary.


  1. I've tried, but have never been able to get through Ulysses, but I'd gladly discuss feminism, politics (ours), social change...whatever....over a glass of good wine. The only thing worse than a silent guest is one who monopolises the conversation. That guest is usually a man, recently retired from a position of some authority, and one who thinks himself an authority on everything.
    I'm still thinking about what I consider more important at a dinner party - food or conversation. I'm still sitting on the fence.

  2. I hate to admit it, but the open gardens sound like much more fun than bothering with all the food preparations for guests.

    I don't mind making a nice meal for David and me, although that is a meal with much consideration for cholesterol and other health issues these days. Alcohol is a thing of the past for him and only an occasional thing for me, although I do like a glass of white wine on special occasions. Dianne

  3. Hello:
    Well, rapier wits, debates until dawn,fine wine, delicious food and a non-leaking roof, what more could one wish for?!! In Valley's End you have the perfect combination, guaranteed we are certain, to be a winning formula every time.Perfect......could two more chairs be squeezed around a table, any table, should we happen to be in the area......we know how to hold our knife and fork........we can talk the night away....we love controversy........we eat anything, but with particular relish if it is edible. Please, please may we come next time?

    Nor should we choose the pub, either!! Ghastly windows...always a bad sign!!!!

    Now, as for Ulysses, Bloomsday is also celebrated here in Hungary we now realise. In Szombathely, a town near the Austrian border the mythical Leopold Bloom's father was meant to have lived there.Now, we have another strange event to amuse us but, alas, we have missed it for this year!

    Thank you so much for the kind links to our blog. And, not one, but two. We are dancing an Irish jig!!!!

  4. Sorry to hear about the pub; sad that the chef didn't carry on in the manner you had admired previously. The best pub meal I remember was Sunday lunch at The Albion in Scarborough, years ago when Steve and I spent a week there every summer.

    The dinner parties sound lovely! I am hardly an accomplished cook myself, therefore I usually enlist my parents' help on such occasions, and I dare say none of my party guests ever left the place hungry or wanting for more in terms of drinks and conversation. My last one was on Friday last week; this time, I had made all the food myself, but it wasn't complicated, just pizza and tiramisu, and my parents only brought the wine (Valpolicella).

  5. I always avoid dining out on Mother's day, Valentine's day, Father's day etc. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I dined out on a Sunday, it seems salty, overcooked roast dinners are all that's on offer around here.
    I prefer to host dinners than attend. I am not confident enough to fully immerse myself in debates, so I tend to play mother-goose and drop topics and food for people to share,and keep a low profile. Failing that, I drink too much and become the annoying, loudmouth guest who everyone tires of.

    I'll leave a link for you, I'm sure it'll be of some interest:

  6. Frico, did you like the stuffed salmon? Or was crusted crown of lamb tastier?

  7. We are not good at advance planning, so dinner parties for us are rare. We did have one last night, and a good time was had by all. No controversy broke out, but an ease of camaraderie was much in evidence--even among those who'd not met one another before--and all seemed to enjoy the food. J tried out three new dishes (she almost never cooks from a recipe), so a high-wire act, but all dishes turned out well (even, if the Hattatts are reading this, those cooked on the grill, which, after a false start, J has thoroughly mastered).

    As for things Joycean: I have read Ulysses, though only after a fashion and after many, many abandoned attempts. I followed a procedure I first tried out when finally reading Virginia Woolf: vacation, book in hand in hammock, and if your mind wanders while reading, well, that's just adding to the great stream of consciousness already underway. I've gone to bits of Bloomsday as it is carried on in New York, even once staying until the wee hours to hear Fionnula Flanagan read Molly's soliloquy. An unforgettable experience, that.

  8. What fun!!!! I stay at home too much these days!

  9. Lively conversation and good food (and wine) make for a wonderful evening. We had one such on Saturday night - the conversation was better than the food, but we laughed so hard, talked so intensely, and enjoyed ourselves so thoroughly that we all went home completely satisfied.

    You have me thinking of pulling out my cookbooks and perusing the possibilities.

  10. I don't do formal dinners any more. I used to, but I don't have the space now, so it's tapas style and plenty of booze. No-one seems to mind and the conversation flows.

    Sorry about your Sunday lunch. I agree. Most pubs these days turn out mass produced (Brakes) junk and expect you to pay a lot for it. Unless you go to a 'gastro pub' and then you might as well go out for a proper restaurant meal because it'll cost almost as much! Overpriced and over-rated. I'm sure I was never like that when I was a pub landlady. :)

  11. when i need to consult a book to go to dinner...i am in sore trouble....haha...guess you cant wear jeans and sandals either....oy i am in sore trouble...smiles....miss having a good pub, we had a couple great ones when i lived in NC

  12. we have some friends who used to entertain a lot and are excellent at it but as life has moved on and an ageing mother has consumed their attention, they do not entertain as much. no matter, the occasional get together is still highly enjoyable.

    I think that because there are so many options available for women now, even if we haven't hit true equality yet, that they don't truly understand how hard won our gains are or how fragile they still are. They've had it easy, benefiting from our struggles. I don't begrudge them the fruit but I think they need to be educated about it a bit more.

    And last, I agree with you that the longer someone pursues education, the narrower their knowledge. They know more and more about less and less until they really don't know anything at all.

  13. "not everyone agreed with everything said" -That's an essential ingredient for a pleasant evening I think, provided everyone can debate in a civil manner.

    I have yet to meet someone who has read all of Finnegans Wake. Joyce's later work, it seems to me, is among the most hyped and overrated literature of the modern era. I find the more traditional Dubliners much more enjoyable.

  14. I like the sound of it all .... well , except for the pub grub . Though , really , I prefer lunch parties to dinner parties , more relaxed perhaps .

    As for Beloved and Ulysses ? It may be easier for a musician to read and enjoy than for someone who's analysing the actual words used and the order they're used in . But I'm very impressed by his finishing it !

  15. Friko, you've truly painted a rich verbal picture of just what a dinner might, and often is.

    The idea of having a dinner party in this tiny apartment of mine is horrifying. I know that in the first decade of my tenancy I did such invites and prepared such meals still amazes me. Must have been well before the arrival of the laptop, and hundreds of additional books, and other items that seem to have settled onto all available horizontal spaces.

    Rest assured, I am not a hoarder. My current rule for the apartment is that nothing enters unless something else exits. Sounds a bit like some current national economic balancing re debt and income?

    I think that any dinner or other occasion that you might attend would be one that all the rest of those in attendance would remember fondly, or ... remember as stimulating.


  16. Oh I would have been right at home there Friko. I love dinner parties with stimulating conversations and maybe some preselected mood music on the ipod. I keep food simple always. A stroganoff or some such. I agree with you on feminism, it died without formal burial, I only have to talk with some teenage girls....:)

  17. These parties sound so interesting! Intelligent people discussing Topics! An activity we don't much engage in here due to interruptions for poodle tending. I think I used to converse more vividly when I drank, or perhaps it only seemed so to me... I don't know if I know how to "discuss" anymore, and THAT's a rather sad admission, isn't it?

  18. I too have never gotten through Ulysses, nor have I read all of Finnegans Wake. I only read the required parts when I took a class taught by a professor who was a James Joyce fanatic. She loved his writing. She even taught a course that just focused on him. I just find him very difficult to read. Yes, I guess we all get narrow when we are educated. This particular professor focused on James Joyce. Others focus on Jane Austin. I think that is just the way it is in education. We tend to specialized no matter what our area may be. Your beloved is much more rounded. He must follow his interests.

    I envy your dinner party experience. I don't run with as exciting of a bunch of people as you do. I need some new friends who cook wonderful meals, serve great wine, and have stimulating conversations.

  19. The dinner party sounded so entertaining and scrumptious!! Debates huh? How exhilarating!!
    Sounds like you had a great time. Made me want to open my cookbook and make up a guest list. Wanna come?

  20. What a delightful evening, and you're lucky to have friends who give dinner parties as such. It's really years since I have been to one although we do eat with friends sometimes. My own cooking is never that great these days, I seem to have lost the knack!

    A pity when nice old pubs are modernised. I wonder what went wrong, since you liked the chef when he was in his old pub.

  21. I admit, despite a MA followed by two years of research in English Literature, I've never dared to complete 'Ulysses'. There is something intimidatingly unreadable about it, or may be the sheer bulk of it. But Joyce I love; he is just a master storyteller in 'Dubliners'.
    I love dinner parties like this one, where there is some food for thought too besides all the real food. I'm glad you had a lovely time.

    1. In complete agreement on DUBLINERS. Sublime stuff.

  22. Your comments are almost as much fun as the post itself. I especially agree with the line about higher education causing one to narrow one's interests, but the whole of Ulysses? I am indeed impressed! And I love your description of the lively conversation. Hubby and I are now relegated to finding other ways to enjoy special occasions, as our waistlines and cholesterol numbers require us to eat out much less often. Simple fare is rarely served at dinner parties or restaurants...

  23. I am an English Literature major and would be terrified to sit at that table as I have forgotten most of what I learned so long ago and Ulysses hurt my head. I am an easy talker, but you also want one who is smart not just a babbler like me. Food sounds lovely. I must get the energy up to have a dinner party and soon! I do think the feminism generation movement IS somewhere in the middle these days.

  24. Thank you, thank you! I can't tell you how pleased I am to find that I am not the only one who could not finish James Joyce. I am giddy with relief.

  25. Here's my favorite bit of this post: "Beloved threw a concerned glance in my direction once..." I hope you make him throw concerned glances your way for decades to come.

    The feminist question is a very good one, and I'd agree that the truth probably lies somewhere in between the two viewpoints. One lesson I'm seeing played out in my generation of women in their late 30s and early/mid forties is this: those who hankered for docile domesticity quickly learned it's never docile at all...and, after a bit more time passed and they viewed their lives and options, they realized how much they'd limited their life choices by giving up economic power. I cannot tell you how many of my friends who opted to become stay-at-home mothers are now wishing for the power and independence of their own income.

  26. Replied to your question on traditions on my blog. FYI

  27. What a perfectly divine post, so beautifully written and well described, I thought I was there, too. More's the pity I wasn't, for I surely would have loved that conversation, not to mention the food and wine! Nice bit on the etiquette. Your instincts reign supreme!

  28. I like your asides, Friko - they always make me smile. However, I got food poisoning on Lamb several years ago and haven't partaken of it since. I wonder what the manners book would say I should do if I were invited to a dinner party that served it? Maybe I could just take a sliver and push it under a vegetable?

  29. Hi Friko - I'd definitely fall into the uneducated .. I don't think I've picked Ulysses up - except recently I've heard the odd snippet on the Beeb .. and learnt a little about Joyce and his background.

    Etiquette - a quintessential English 'fashion' - but without servants down stairs we're stuck with having to take ourselves away from our guests and producing platters of the best food possible ... and there are some good alternatives out there - though I'm not always that impressed, preferring home cooked if possible.

    Cheers Hilary

  30. An interesting discourse on dining and socialising Friko. I enjoyed reading it - Dave

  31. This post had me chuckling, throughout. I believe you're growing more clever as the days go by.

    I like very much that Beloved was the only one in the party to have made it through Joyce. No small feat in a highbrow crowd.

  32. Dear Friko, thanks for those dinner parties. Your writing and your wit had me right there with you.

    As to whether an education makes for interesting conversation, I'm not so sure. I've known several truly well-read and well-informed friends who never went to college but they have broad and deep interests and so they read prolifically and watch good programming and show great interest in the opinions of others. They have become critical thinkers who ask the incisive questions.

    For myself, I got a graduate degree (an M.A. here) and was encouraged by the head of the department to go on for a PHD. But I'd seen many of the students who were getting their doctorates because many of them taught classes and my take on going on for more study after getting the master's was that I'd become less and less creative. More narrow. And possibly a little rigid. By that I mean a little less willing to entertain ideas different from the normative. And so I opted out of the PHD program and went back to teaching. If a person is serious about teaching, then she can't afford to tarnish her creativity!


  33. Mmm, the feminist question. Look at tan shops and the level of grooming expected amongst young women (which used to equate to being a porn star in my far off youth) and think feminism has died. Look at my daughter, the main breadwinner as her husband finishes his PhD and takes a huge role in childcare, and wonder if I could have ever had her choices. We have moved on, and mostly that is better I think, but for both boys and girls we now have an obsession with looks and celebrity which corrodes the soul.

  34. Ein sehr schöner und kurzweiliger Beitrag, macht Spaß hier zu lesen...

    Lieben Gruß und genieße den Tag

  35. Sounds like a great evening... And fun to think of Bloomsday being celebrated all over the world. Another reason to read 'Ulysses' I'm afraid!

  36. Wish I could attend one of those dinner parties. I might not be able to hold forth on Ulysses but I bet I would enjoy the discussions anyhow. As far as the more degrees, the narrower the field of interest, doesn't that make sense? One starts broad and then narrows to a choice idea, a field of particular interest. We have become here in the US a nation of specialists. There's good (we have "experts in the field") and bad (who can we go to for generalized knowledge?) to the whole prospect.

    Come for a visit! We will have good food, good drink, and good talk late into the night :)

  37. Well that pub was a sad disappointment. I guess they are aiming at volume to make profit.
    Your dinner with lavishly poured wine put a grin on my face I cannot down more than 2 glasses. I am easily made drunk!! And I don't seem to be a good-funny one. I often wish I could be easier to get along with.


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