Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. Kaspar the Savoy Cat

Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. Kaspar the Savoy Cat

Article excerpt

How to solve the problem of an unlucky 13 people at dinner? Developing a rational mind is the obvious answer, but let's pretend to be superstitious for a moment, because there's fun to be had. And indeed money: in 19th-century Paris men known as quatorzièmes sat around in full evening dress, waiting for last-minute gigs as the 14th guest at a meal.

Some people say a pregnant woman counts as two guests, while a press story from several years ago claimed that when David Cameron and friends realised their party comprised 13, the restaurant owner fetched his Paddington Bear and sat it down with them. Cameron himself can't remember this, though he does confirm his father was a stickler for the rule: 'He'd always put an extra chair out, and sit a cuddly toy on it.'

The Savoy has its own solution: Kaspar the cat. In 1898 Woolf Joel, a South African mining magnate, hosted a dinner at the hotel, but a last-minute cancellation brought the group down to 13. Joel scoffed at talk of the first person to leave the table encountering bad luck, and to prove guests were talking nonsense he left first. On his return to Johannesburg he was promptly shot dead.

The Savoy decided that from then on they would never allow 13 diners to sit down again. For a while their solution was to seat a waiter with the party. But neither side was very happy with this arrangement: the hotel was a member of staff short, while the diners had to put up with a complete stranger in their midst. Not very relaxing, and useless if you wanted to talk confidentially. …

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