Delicious Death – Afternoon Tea With Agatha Christie, Part 2

This post contains spoilers for A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie (1950)and its TV adaptations starring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple (1985) and Geraldine McEwen (2005).

In my teens I began to suffer from migraines and had to stop eating chocolate cake, especially the dark ganache devil’s food cake we used to have for special occasions.   In my teens I also became obsessed with Agatha Christie.  In

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Afternoon Tea with Agatha Christie – Part 1, Miss Marple’s Tea Room

This post contains spoilers for Agatha Christie’s After The Funeral, the TV adaptation starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot and Murder at the Gallop, a 1963 film, starring Margaret Rutherford.  

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The interior of Miss Marple’s Tea Room

My encounter with Miss Marple’s Tea Room

Driving through the little village of Sassafras on the outskirts of Melbourne, we came across Miss Marple’s Tea Room.  The Tea Room is in a mock Tudor building with a garden full of annuals.  It served cream teas and ice cream sundaes.  Its waitresses were dressed in crisp black uniforms white aprons.  A high mock Tudor beam around the walls displayed a large collection of willow pattern cake plates.  Margaret Rutherford, the funniest screen Miss Marple, is everywhere, peering at customers through a comedy magnifying glass, from the signs, the walls and the menus.

The whole place is designed to look as if Miss Marple, in the form of Margaret Rutherford, has retired from sleuthing, immigrated to Australia and set up a tea shop in which she can showcase pictures from her detective career and her excellent collection of willow pattern china.

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The Menu of Miss Marple’s Tea Room

I do not believe Miss Marple would have a tea room

I am very, very fond of Miss Marple but I don’t believe in the concept of Miss Marple’s Tea Room.  Miss Marple would never retire, establish a tea room and display her collection of willow pattern plates.

Having a tea room was a 20th Century Food Dream

Setting up a tea room or tea shop was the food dream in interwar Britain.  It was the early 20th century equivalent to Amy Schumer’s (NSFW) bakery in Maine.

In London, when a gentlewoman becomes distressed–which she seems to do on the slightest provocation–she collects about her two or three other distressed gentlewomen, forming a quorum, and starts a tea-shop in the West-End, which she calls Ye Oak Leaf;  Ye Olde Willow-Pattern, Ye Linden-Tree, or Ye Snug Harbour, according to personal taste.  PG Wodehouse, A Damsel in Distress, 1919.

A tea shop owner in Agatha Christie 

Agatha Christie explores this phenomenon with hindsight in After The Funeral which is set in the early 1950’s.  One of the key characters, Miss Gilchrist, owned a genteel tea shop before World War II.

Looking at Miss Gilchrist, Mr Entwhistle felt a sudden stab of recognition –a composite picture of hundreds of ladylike figures approaching him in numerous Bay Trees, Ginger Cats, Blue Parrots, Willow Trees and Cosy Corners, all chastely encased in blue or pink or orange overalls and taking orders for pots of china tea and cakes. Miss Gilchrist had a Spiritual Home –a lady-like tea-shop of Ye Olde Worlde variety with a suitable genteel clientèle. Kindle Edition, at p 40

Even when Cora  Lansquenet, the bumbling old lady for whom Miss Gilchrist serves as companion and house keeper, is brutally murdered, Miss Gilchrist never stops talking about her tea shop:

When my little tea-shop failed –such a disaster –it was the war, you know. A delightful place. I called it the Willow Tree and all the china was blue willow pattern –sweetly pretty –and the cakes really good –I’ve always had a hand with cakes and scones. Yes, I was doing really well and then the war came and supplies were cut down and the whole thing went bankrupt –a war casualty, that is what I always say, and I try to think of it like that. I lost the little money my father left me that I had invested in it, and of course I had to look round for something to do. I’d never been trained for anything. Ibid

Agatha Christie presents Miss Gilchrist’s tea shop as an expression of herself, not a means of earning money.  Another character, Susan is married to a man who works in a chemist’s shop   Miss Gilchrist does not really approve of the chemist’s shop

A husband in the retail trade did not quite square with Miss Gilchrist’s impression of Susan’s smartness . . . Ibid at p 111

When Susan retorts “You kept a tea shop, you said didn’t you“.  Miss Gilchrist is surprised at the comparison:

‘Yes, indeed,’ Miss Gilchrist’s face lit up. That the Willow Tree had ever been ‘trade’ in the sense that a shop was trade, would never have occurred to her. To keep a tea-shop was in her mind the essence of gentility. She started telling Susan about the Willow Tree.  Ibid 111

At the end of the book it is revealed that Miss Gilchrist murdered her employer, so that she could establish a new tea shop.

‘You killed her –in that brutal way –for five thousand pounds?’ Susan’s voice was incredulous. ‘Five thousand pounds,’ said Poirot, ‘would have rented and equipped a tea-shop . . .’ Miss Gilchrist turned to him. ‘At least,’ she said. ‘You do understand. It was the only chance I’d ever get. I had to have a capital sum.’ Her voice vibrated with the force and obsession of her dream. ‘I was going to call it the Palm Tree. And have little camels as menu holders. . .”

Why does this mean Miss Marple wouldn’t set up a tea shop full of momentos?

Miss Marple is Agatha Christie’s creation. And Agatha Christie was a practical person, she likes trade to be trade.  For Agatha Christie, Miss Gilchrist’s tea shop is a vanity project.  Miss Gilchrist never focusses on making money from her excellent baking, she focusses on  the gentility of the decor and her customers.  She lives in a fantasy in which she is never at fault.  Her vanity and lack of empathy lead her to murder.  Her desire to keep up appearances as a genteel person also conceals her huge resentment against the reality of her life which she never expresses except in the brutal way she murders her employer.

Miss Marple is Agatha Christie’s representative.  She might bake cakes, she might work in a chemist’s shop if she had to, but she wouldn’t establish a business as a monument to herself.

 

New Knitting Project Passion

The idea of knitting something new creeps up on me.   I’ll be watching a film with a character wearing a chunky scarf on a winter trip to the beach and I’ll start thinking “How was that made, would it be better in a different colour, do I already have yarn that I could use?

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Hermione Granger wore this scarf

Three weeks later I’ll end up with a cute hat and the decision that the full pattern is just too much.

Peerie Flooers fair isle hat

I’ve never worn this hat outside

I’ll see the grey blanket I made years ago  folded on a chair and remember how it felt, heavy in my lap when I was knitting it.  I think “I know I’ve already got an Aran blanket but I could give the new one to a friend.  Jack’s always claiming the grey one belongs to him when  we end up watching movies at mine after a winter’s day Sunday roast.”

Old fashioned chain craft stores and yarn shops used to have ring binders full of patterns and magazines in which you could bury yourself for hours trying to find  pattern that matched your vision or being distracted into a different idea.  Now, the internet, in general, and Ravelry in particular, allow infinite dreamy “research” into possible knitting projects.  In the past, I made commitments to months of work on a pattern that I had only just seen.  Now I agonise for hours over pages and pages of Ravelry projects, searching for pictures that fit with my idea.  I scrutinise the charts and patterns trying to see if they hit that sweet spot.  Not so boring that it won’t hold my attention and not so difficult that I won’t hold my nerve.

Even without any specific inspiration I’ll suddenly just get the urge to knit something.  When that happens I have to go to the yarn shop as soon as possible. I have insisted on travelling immediately across the city whatever the original plan for the day had been.

The extra internet planning often goes completely out of the window once I’m in a yarn shop.  Sometimes I’m saved from garish or impossible dreams by wise counsel.  Sometimes I’m just distracted by the newest, deepest,  palest, softest, squishiest beauty.

Once I’ve decided on the yarn and bought whatever tempting accessories, needles, markers etc. that I can’t do without (but probably already have) I rush home and cast on immediately.

My immediate, impulsive determination to start has often got me into trouble.  I mis-read the pattern, I mis-count the stitches.  I have to start again, three or four times.

Sometimes, although I try to persevere, I start to see that it isn’t working, or it isn’t what I was  hoping.     I realise that the pattern isn’t harmonious or that I don’t have enough skill to pull it off.

Completed afghan squares

All these pieces were supposed to be 12″ square

Sometimes I’m drawn into what I’m knitting, but some contingent thing happens to distract me and I just lose interest.  It might be a sudden rush of work travel which leaves the project put away out of sight.  It might be a broken needle or a mis-calculation in the amount of yarn needed that stops the flow of the work and leads me back to the yarn shop with its tempting novelties.

A broken circular needle

I went to replace this, came back with 19 new balls of yarn

Sometimes after a few false starts, the pattern takes hold and I can see it working the way I want it to or in a way that completely surprises and delights me.   Then I’m drawn into the work and find joy in the repetition.

Beginning of my boysenberry Arctic Wrap

The beginnings of my boysenberry Arctic Wrap.

I used to feel terribly guilty about these “intermittences of the heart” as Proust would say.  All those reminders of lost loves and wasted time tucked away in the back corners of cupboards. But a wise friend told me not to be so hard on myself and my enthusiasms. I enjoyed these beginnings and I always learned something from them.

 

 

 

Anniversaries

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Today is a day of mourning marred by the senseless hateful massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  It’s a day that won’t be forgotten and an anniversary that will haunt everyone who loved someone lost or changed by it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about good and bad anniversaries.  Last week I was writing a project post for this blog about some collages I  made for my 20th Wedding Anniversary Party.  Once I started working on it and thinking about the party I was overwhelmed by other sadder memories.  Because that wonderful party was on 30 November 2014, just two weeks before my father died on 15 December 2014.  

I thought to myself “People forget happy anniversaries like weddings.  People remember the day their heart was broken.

For a year after my father died I calculated time in relation to his illness.  If someone mentioned a trip I’d been on, a piece of work I’d done, I’d think about how close that was to time I had spent with him during his final years.   When the first episode of the TV series The Night Manager began in Egypt during the Arab Spring, the footage of Tahrir Square reminded me of the last political conversations I had with Dad on his last visit to New Zealand in 2011.   

Mourning and nostalgia pull us away from living the day in front of us.  When my nostalgic wedding collage post made me think about my father’s death, it suddenly felt frivolous and egotistical to write about it.

I think I know why this happens, our brains’ convoluted neural networks are not a logical database.   Our memories of places and things, our habits and ways of working are connected by multiple associations to the the people we live with.  Everything we did with that person (even things we did while of thinking of them) is suffused with them.  Taking away those associations would be “a kind of brain damage” as the cruel procedure in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is aptly described.

When someone we love is really gone, this makes the places and things we shared with them seem wrong.  Our focus runs backwards to the time when that person was there, turning everything, even the calendar, into a sign of what we have lost.  It happened to Joan Didion after her husband died:

 All this year I have been keeping time by last year’s calendar: what were we doing on this day last year, where did we have dinner, is it the day a year ago we flew to Honolulu after Quintana’s wedding, is it the day a year ago we flew back from Paris, is it the day.  The Year of Magical Thinking, Harper Perennial 2006 at p 225

Joan tried to start working again after her husband’s death by reporting on the 2004 Democratic Convention.  She knew that she had to avoid actual places and people she had been to with her husband, but she would be OK because the work didn’t require her to go to those places and the people had changed since her last convention in 1992.  But it didn’t work:

I did not realize that there was still room for error until I was walking to the Fleet Centre for the opening of the convention and found myself in tears.  The first day of the Democratic convention was July 26, 2004.  The day of Quintana’s wedding had been July 26, 2003. Ibid at p 177

Whilst I was thinking about all this (and not writing anything) I had the television turned to CNN, we were waiting for the results of the final super Tuesday in California on 7 June.  All the news reports mentioned that 7 June 2016 was the eighth anniversary of Hillary’s concession to Barack Obama.  Back then on 7 June 2008 she said, “Well, this isn’t exactly the party I’d planned, but I sure like the company.”    I thought, may be I can write something about anniversaries, they change their meaning over time.  The day of a personal disaster might bring something else in the future.

As the results came on 7 June 2016 it became clear that she would be the first woman presidential nominee for a major party.  CNN started playing her speech.  I wasn’t paying complete attention, probably knitting and using the internet until something she said echoed what I had been thinking.  She began to talk about her mother:

This past Saturday would have been her 97th birthday. She was born on June 4th, 1919, and some of you may know the significance of that date. On the the very day my mother was born in Chicago, Congress was passing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. That amendment finally gave women the right to vote.  And I really wish my mother could be here tonight.

And I was reminded anniversaries are not binary, good days and bad days.  The past gives us strength and pain, our personal suffering, our public suffering, are tied to the events that make us who we are, that make, or break our civilisation.

We all wish with Frodo that tragic events like the Orlando massacre did not happen in our time.  But we “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” as Gandalf said.

Everyday, whether it is an anniversary of something terrible or something wonderful Is a day that could be about something else, new work, new love, a second chance to become president.

 

The day my father died was such a difficult, such a sad day but the sunset from his room was beautiful, the way my sisters came together to be with him in his last moments (even if it was hard to maintain afterwards), the way my friends supported me through the inter webs and in person.  I lived it the best I could but not every day is that day.  I was stronger on that day because I had with me the memory of how we had celebrated the good day.

 

Proust and pink cakes

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Macarons in the Ladurée window, Champs Élysées

Last week I was writing about a Strawberry Layer Cake my husband made for my birthday.  Trying to find the recipe we used in 2013, I looked at hundreds of recipes and images of strawberry cakes. Some were fresh looking with strawberries and cream, or cream cheese icing.

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Some were more strawberry shaped and coloured, a vivid reminder of strawberries.

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I thought “I prefer the more natural strawberry cake.  I’m sure it would have a better flavour that something that is just strawberry coloured.”

That reminded me of Proust’s law of cake decoration, vivid colours don’t mean that food is tasty, however attractive they may be to children.  In my memory this aphorism came from a part of In Search of Lost Time Gilberte served a pink cake like a castle to her guests for afternoon tea which was the colour of strawberries crushed into fromage frais. Marcel ate it without thinking and and found it totally indigestible and ended up laying awake all night.

I thought that’s a good topic for a blog post.  It’s a jumping off point for talking about how fashions in food alternate between the rococco (decoration and garnishes, dishes made to look like something else) and the romantic (“pure” food, “natural” food, nostalgia for the food of our childhood).   I could also use it to discuss my lack of prowess at fine cake decorating – asking the real question – so my prejudices against complex cake decorating just reflect my lack of skill?

I began searching the internet for the quote and for pictures that might approximate the cake  I remembered Proust describing.  It’s easy enough to find pictures of Madeleines surely there must be some representations of the architectural cakes.

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A plate showing Carême’s architectural cakes

But I didn’t find the quote on the internet. In theory its easy to find quotes from Proust even if they don’t come up through google search.  The English editions of In Search of Lost Time all have a Synopsis at the end of each volume which summarises the subject of each of the pages e.g.

THE CAPTIVE

Life with Albertine. Street sounds (1). Albertine and I under the same roof (2).  My mother’s disapproval (5). My irregular sleeping habits.

So I found my volumes of In Search of Lost Time and started reading the Synopses.  I assumed the cake must be Within A Budding Grove as part of Madame Swann at Home (where the ever sensitive M. falls in love with Gilberte during a series of afternoon visits to the Swanns).  But grabbing that volume and looking at the Synopsis, I was surprised to find:

. . . The Henri II staircase (89).  The chocolate cake (90)

and no other references to cake.

So I looked the chocolate cake passage up anyway and there was the castle cake I thought I remembered, like “the palace of Darius“, made of chocolate!

And she would usher us into the dining-room, as sombre as the interior of an Asiatic temple painted by Rembrandt, in which an architectural cake, as urbane and familiar as it was imposing, seemed to be enthroned there on the off-chance as on any other day, in case the fancy seized Gilberte to discrown it of its chocolate battlements and to hew down the steep brown slopes of its ramparts, baked in the oven like the bastions of the palace of Darius. ” In Search of Lost Time, Within A Budding Grove, Part 1 Madame Swann At Home, Marcel Proust, translated Scott Moncrieff and Kilmartin, at p 90 

Just a little further on there was the indigestion:

 . . . my mother used always to say “What a nuisance it is; this child can never go to the Swanns’ without coming home ill.” (ibid)

But there was no discussion about children’s tastes or coloured icing.  I was a bit taken aback because I had often talked to people about this observation and attributed it to Proust.  So I kept on searching the Synopses of the other volumes.  When I got to Volume 5 The Captive and The Fugitive I found:

Albertine’s enthusiasm for the cries of Paris and the foodstuffs they offer (136); her eloquent disquisition on the subject of ices (140).

“I must have mixed up Gilberte’s cake with Albertine’s ices.”  So I had a look at Albertine’s disquisition:

“Oh dear, at the Ritz I’m afraid you’ll find Vendome Columns of ice, chocolate ice or raspberry, and then you’ll need a lot of them so that they may look like votive pillars pylons erected along an avenue to the glory of coolness. They make raspberry obelisks too, which will rise up in the burning desert of my thirst and I’ll make their pink granite crumble and melts deep down in my throat which they will refresh better than any oasis.” (and here the deep laugh broke out, whether from satisfaction talking so well, or in self-mockery using such carefully contrived images, or, alas, from physical pleasure at feeling inside herself something so good, so cool, which was tantamount to a sexual pleasure).

That wasn’t what I was looking for – it’s not really about food at all.

I had now spent a long time looking for this quote. I’d wandered all over the house looking for The Guermantes Way which wasn’t shelved with the other volumes when we unpacked.    I’d also spent a long time trying different search terms on the internet. I found a really interesting book Cake – A History by Nicola Humble that mentions Gilberte’s architectural cake .  I also tried to find pictures of actual architectural cakes in a 19th century French style to illustrate my point.

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Eric Lanlard with Carême inspired whimsy

I had to find the quote.  I thought maybe it’s Nabokov. Lolita, Pale Fire,  and Ada all have sections of Proust pastiche.  Before I started combing the internet for these p I decided to have a cup of tea.  I  started flicking idly through Swann’s Way which was still sitting on the coffee table.   And there I found my quote, hidden amongst the pink hawthorns in Combray.  

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And it was indeed a hawthorn, but one whose blossom was pink, and lovelier even than the white.  It, too, was in holiday attire – for one of those days which are the only true holidays, the holy days of religion, because they are not assigned by some arbitrary caprice as secular holidays are, to days which are not specially ordained for them which have nothing about them that is essentially festal – but it was attired even more richly than the rest, for the flowers which clung to its branches, one above another, so thickly as to leave no part of the tree undecorated, like the tassels wreathed about the crook of a rococco shepherdess, were, every one of them, “in colour” and consequently of a superior quality if one was to judge by the scale of prices at the “stores” in the Square, or at Camus’s where the most expensive sugar was pink.  For my own part, I set a higher value on cream cheese when it was pink, when I had been allowed to tinge it with crushed strawberries.  And these flowers had chosen precisely one of those colours of some edible and delicious thing, or of some fond embellishment of a costume for a major feast, which, inasmuch as they make plain the reason for their superiority, are those whose beauty is most evident in the eyes of children, and for that reason must always seem more vivid and more natural than any other tints, even after the child’s mind has realised that they offer no gratification to the appetite and have not been selected by the dressmaker.” In Search of Lost Time, Swann’s Way, Part 1 Combray, Marcel Proust, translated Scott Moncrieff and Kilmartin, at p 166

Proust observations about food are so tied up in the hawthorn description that I’ve had to use a long quote but I’ve highlighted the relevant portions.  I didn’t find it by looking in the Synopsis because it just sees that page as part of a whole section on hawthorns

Swann’s Way . . . The hawthorn lane (164), Apparition of Gilberte (168)

But that must be the quote, there are the strawberries crushed into cream cheese versus the products of the cake shop.

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A Ladurée display case

But it doesn’t say exactly “Vivid colours don’t mean that food is tasty, however attractive it may be to children.”  It also doesn’t support my idea about the distinction between romantic and rococo food, Proust says the hawthorns are rococco in their profusion and exuberant colour  

. . . for the flowers which clung to its branches, one above another, so thickly as to leave no part of the tree undecorated, like the tassels wreathed about the crook of a rococo shepherdess. . .

So it turns out the law of pink cakes “Vivid colours don’t mean that food is tasty, however attractive it may be to children.”  turns out to be just as much mine as Proust’s.  But it seems completely Proustian that I should have wasted so much time, and got so much pleasure from a mistaken recollection.

 

 

 

Food dreams . . .  

I love cooking, especially for other people.

Afternoon tea for friends

I also enjoy watching MasterchefThe Great British Bake OffMy Kitchen Rules and the rest as much as any other person who really loves watching television.

But lately I’ve worried about their contestants.  It’s the early rounds of Masterchef here in Australia, we have only had about 20 episodes and there are still more than 15 contestants.  But the people eliminated in the top 24 were too upset to talk.  They sob uncontrollably, “I can’t be eliminated so soon . . .”   They have given up their jobs, left their honeymoons, moved states to follow their “food dream” on Masterchef.  They have trashed their lives and have nothing tangible to show for it.  The consolation that Marco Pierre White said something nice about their food in the previous episode feels inadequate.  They stand trembling in a dirty apron weeping over spilt milk or split chocolate.  They know for certain that millions of people will see this, that everyone they know will see it, that people they will meet in the future are watching it now.

To me they seem like gamblers who have not understood the odds.  There’s something heroic about the fact that they have made such a big bet.  But it’s gut wrenching to see them realise that the odds have not ever been in their favour.

So why do they do it?  They say it is part of their “food journey“, that they are trying to make their “food dreams” come true. What are these food dreams that make people take such risks?

I don’t remember hearing anyone talking about a food dream in the past.  When I watched original English 00’s Masterchef, the contestants didn’t talk about food dreams.  They were in a contest, which they aimed to win.  They had been persuaded to participate to test their skills, for fame or for the prizes.  They knew that you didn’t need to win a reality show to become a chef.  You just need to train, gain the appropriate qualifications and work until you are able to head a kitchen (by setting up your own restaurant or finding someone to back you).  If you wanted to be a food journalist or cookbook writer you had to find someone to publish your restaurant reviews, recipes or books.   Nigella Lawson was a journalist and an editor in her twenties.  She didn’t need to go into any competition in order to publish her first cookbook.

I’m pretty sure the term food dreams originally came from the producers of Masterchef.  They started asked the question  “What’s your food dream?”  Everyone in the top 24 has to spend months participating in the competition, living in the Masterchef house, waking and sleeping according to the requirements of the production.  The elimination process might seem cruel if participation was just about a prize at the end which most contestants will never see.  So the production makes the contestants tell them about food dreams when they sign up to audition.  And, the production says, participating even for part of the competition will help you to achieve your food dreams.

But after so many years, the shows have shaped their participants.  They all come with food dreams and enough hope that Masterchef can make them come true.  Sadly, food dreams only seem to come true when they already close to reality.  Younger people who not finished training for anything else or those who are already working in the food industry can be realistically apprenticed into kitchens or use their appearances on television to support existing business.  The food dreams of most contestants over 25 who are not so easy to fulfil as they don’t involve working restaurant or bakery hours.

Jimmy already has a solid idea of where his food dream may lead him after the MasterChef Australia ride is over. He would love to settle on the banks of Tasmania’s Huon River, on a property running food tours and cooking workshops for guests..  

Nathaniel‘s dream is to create a retreat for emergency services personnel, for whom the burn-out rate is very high. He would provide a space where they and their families can get away, visit local markets and cook together.

To me, Jimmy was really dreaming of holidays and Nathaniel’s retreat doesn’t really require him to be a cook. They dreamed of escape and went on Masterchef because it promises to fulfil dreams.  I can’t help feeling that in the end they would have been happier just planning a few parties and watching the little kids tuck into their sausages and bread.

Kids at a barbecue

Why host parties?

The first party I remember was my sister’s fourth or fifth birthday.  We had finished the cake when my step-father and some friends (a friend?) came home, possibly from the pub.  There was a pile of red paper napkins out on the table and they started tearing them up to make doilies, snowflakes, strings of little paper men, hats and airplanes.  All us children joined in. Soon paper was just being ripped up and thrown in the air.  The floor of the tiny living room was covered in red paper confetti which the adults scooped up and let snow down us from their comparatively great height. If we flapped our hands or blew on the pieces of tissue we could stop them from falling to the ground.  You could kick the paper on the floor into the air and pretend you were kicking a pile of autumn leaves.  I watched the air, full of paper, I was entranced.

For me, momentary silliness turned into pure joy.  On the other hand my mother, who was hosting the party, was faced with a bunch of over-excited children. They might break something, or hurt themselves, or hurt each other.  And at the end of it she left with a huge mess.

I want to have parties because I love the idea of creating a space that people will enjoy. But hosting a party is not the same as being a party. I always get very anxious about them. Will people come? Will they talk to each other? Will there be enough to eat? Will there be enough to drink? Will there be enough glasses? Will things get broken? Will the carpet be ruined? Will I say something I shouldn’t? Will people have fun?  Apart from running out of food all these other things have happened at my parties.  Because parties are open-ended events you can’t make people come and if once they do arrive they are not completely under your control.  And I know this so clearly that just an hour before any party is due to start I am overcome by the certainty that no-one will come and we’ve moved all the furniture for nothing.  I call it “host anxiety syndrome”.  But I’ve always kept trying because some of my happiest memories are of parties.

The first time I ever stayed up until midnight was at a midsummer eve party.   In the mid-seventies when I was about seven years old my family moved to hospital accomodation.   There were lots of other families of young doctors on the street and all the kids and wives hung out together.  My mother is half Norwegian and one of the other wives was Swedish or Danish.  Together they planned a midsummer eve party.  All the kids put on a play in the early hours of the evening and then there was food, a bonfire and berries.  Late in the evening there was sweet dough which we cooked on sticks in the embers and ate piping hot filled with sugar and butter and berries.  The bonfire looked different in the long blue twilight of midsummer eve than the dark winter bonfires of Guy Fawkes.  I spun round and round in circles getting dizzy and collapsed on the grass, the trees reeling above me and lay flat until the spinning stopped and I could see the smoke trail up into the endless blue.  I imagined that I could feel the earth spinning blue through dark  space something that I never thought about sitting at my desk in school.

Halloween 2010 Eye Ball Balloon

Balloons are always fun 

An Introduction to Epic Procrastination

John  Lennon sang “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  But I always find that other plans are what happen when I’m busy making any plan.  I begin by planning to pull the ugly wall-unit out of the dining room and end by spending several months planning and making an action painting with a group of friends.  This is undoubtedly procrastination:

To voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse-off for the delay.

Procrastination is generally supposed to be a bad thing, weakness, a flaw, but I’m not so sure.  How can you tell whether you are worse off for delaying what you intended to do?  Isn’t it a good thing if your pencils are sharp, you have a list of what you need to do and hesitate to finish what you are making because it could still be improved?  How do you value what you did compared to what you intended to or “should” do?

My friends and I had a wonderful time planning and making the painting.  The dining room eventually got re-modelled.  And I still have the painting.

Which brings me to this website “Epic Procrastination”.  It’s an exploration of the many elaborate things I have done when I had fully intended to do something else.  My search through the time I’ve wasted to find out what I really lost.

I’ll leave you to wonder what I should have been doing whilst I was working on it.