Magazine article The Spectator

Belles and Bores

Magazine article The Spectator

Belles and Bores

Article excerpt

According to an article in the latest edition of Tatler, the dinner party is dead. Also in the same edition of Tatler was a picture of me and Lady Thatcher at a party with a caption asking which one was 'the belle of the book launch?' Well, I would have thought that was pretty clear. Lady Thatcher.

For some reason this annoyed me. I refer to the piece about dinner parties. The article said that they were boring, out-dated and detested by everyone. The dinner party is a thing of the past. The new mode is to do it all in a shiny West London eaterie, preferably decorated by Damon Hill, I mean Damien Hirst. (Which reminds me, an Australian friend of mine once met Damien Hirst at a party and said, 'No wonder you split cows in half, mate, the way you drive.')

Okay. It is true that dinner parties aren't what they used to be. But then they haven't been what they used to be since 1914, for heaven's sake, when liveried butlers brought in seven courses and stood behind everyone's chairs like cuckoos in Swiss clocks. And bemoaning that is like complaining that hoi polloi are now let into the Royal. Enclosure at Ascot or that Chatsworth no longer has any scullery maids with whom to have an after-dinner drink.

In any case, for every gallopingly-gratifying, colossally-convivial dinner party there was always a dire one. In Courtesans and Fishcakes, a great little book on sex and shopping in Ancient Greece, there are numerous contemporary whinges about the length and dullness of various bashes. Talk about Greeks bearing indigestion. What, not those fish entrails in smelly green sauce again? Not those dreadful dancing girls from Crete who don't shave under their armpits?

But that is the point of the dinner party, is it not? The sheer scale for disharmony is so much greater at home than where the fish-faced waiter is watching your every bowl movement. One of the most memorable dinner parties I attended was a bawl from start to finish. The host insulted the hostess all the way through dinner. He began by saying to his neighbour in a stage whisper, 'God, she's so stupid.' Then he said more loudly so the whole table could hear, 'Look at her, have you ever seen anyone as disgustingly faff Eventually he screeched, 'How could I have lived with that appalling slut for 20 years? …

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