I am not one to do things by halves, and never less so than when hosting a party. So this week, as our business celebrates its 30th birthday, we have decided to upstage the ubiquitous goody bag by instead publishing a book to commemorate the event. My Culinary Colleague has given up many hours of her own time (far fewer batches of bread baked, I suspect) to curate the book and make sure that it turns out as we would wish. And just to show that I like to keep things in the family, it is illustrated by Laura Carlin, whom I have never met but who illustrates this magazine’s The Shrink & The Sage column.
Books and parties go well together in my view, and my fellow Old Roedeanian Suzette Field clearly agrees. She has written a book about parties. A Curious Invitation (Picador) is her review of what she considers to be the 40 greatest parties in literature, a subject that I suspect could become a dinner party topic in its own right. (In our house it would trump the usual “How many left-handed batsmen have scored a century for Australia since the second world war?”, which I now challenge cricket obsessives to answer.)
Suzette’s 40 parties include events as varied as the ball at Mansfield Park; the flying party in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Finnegans Wake. The party to celebrate all these imagined parties is being held on October 26 and to be honest I feel exhausted looking at the invitation, which tells me that it will run from 9pm to 5am. Five am! I am unable to attend so will donate two tickets to the first reader who emails me with a postal address and thinks they can survive Suzette’s event.
She is staging what is billed as “a Halloween ball in an abandoned picture palace” in London, where she will be recreating five parties from her book. These include Satan’s rout (Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita), McMurphy’s ward party (Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and the Japanese blossom-viewing party from Murasaki Shikibu’s 11th-century classic The Tale of Genji. It will take until 5am to get around them all.
Suzette’s party is bound to be excellent, albeit exhausting, and I will be sorry to miss it (or at least the pre-midnight part of it). I recently attended another excellent party at the new home of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, which had great food, drink, music and guests and would have been perfect were it not for two things.
The first is that I had never been to the new Central Saint Martins campus in Granary Square, N1, and crucially, neither had my cab driver. It turns out that there are two Granary Squares in N1 and I knew I was definitely in the wrong one when I could spot no sign of either art school or party. I did notice another lost black cab, though, and having called my office to seek better directions, rescued its passenger who turned out to be an editor at Condé Nast Traveller. That’s what you need when you’re lost – a lost travel editor!
But it was when we eventually tracked down our elusive party that the night’s main concern really hit home. Everyone present was a friend or colleague, or both, of the late Helen Scott Lidgett, an effervescent woman whom I first met two decades ago and whose loss I feel keenly. We were gathered to celebrate Helen’s life and achievements, of which there were many: art teacher turned businesswoman, mother, mentor and friend, Helen did a huge amount for the arts and was a governor of the University of the Arts London, of which Central St Martins is a part. Her boss accurately described her as someone who knew that “good business was synonymous with good friendships and good parties”. Helen, you would have been thrilled to see your daughter speaking so movingly of you as a mother, and David Tennant reading Puck’s soliloquy from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, introduced with tears in her eyes by your dear friend Arabella Weir. I am just sorry that you won’t be able to be at our party either.