Saturday, 29 June 2013

Bed-sit Entertaining

This is an appendix to yesterday's post on "How to Have a Dinner Party."  And I must also add that that was just a template. There are all kinds of ways to have dinner parties, and you can add or subtract courses depending on your tastes and budgets. But I maintain that an adult dinner party by definition excludes children. A dinner party is not only a pleasant gathering of adults, it is a chance for adults to exhibit or practice their adult social skills, or skillz, as Napoleon Dynamite would say.  Number one is setting a guest at ease.

One 20th century British definition of a lady was a woman who could set a guest at ease even if he had just walked in upon her when she was naked in the bath. I had good cause to ponder this one memorable day when B.A. forgot to tell me an electrician was coming to check our wiring, and the electrician was let into the Historical House by a conservator when I was in the shower. I got out of the shower to hear a sound rather like a rabid bear moving about, and was quite terrified. I rushed, dripping, in a very inadequate towel, to the kitchen phone, to call up B.A. and inform him that I was soon to be murdered.

B.A. explained why I was unlikely to be murdered, at which point I explained why B.A. was now likely to be murdered himself, and I supplemented my towel with aprons before risking the journey to my bedroom, source of clothes. But alas! There at once was the electrician in the hallway.

"Oh, hello!" I said, brightly.

"Hiya," said the electrician, obviously trying not to laugh.

We exchanged stilted remarks, and I think I asked him if he would like a cup of tea, which he politely refused, and then I rushed off, snickering, to my room.

That, incidentally, is what it is like living in a museum: excellent security system, except for the electricians, carpenters, conservationists, art historians, tourists and bat rights activists who might wander upstairs. (N.B. A really good dressing-gown would make an excellent Christmas gift.)

As I live in a museum, I understand what it is to live in unusual places. And I have lived in two minuscule bedsits, so I know what it is like when your bedroom is your only room. And the way to have a dinner party in your bedroom, is to completely de-bedroom it and turn it into a dining room.

This was always easy for me because when I lived in bedsits, I had a big futon which folded nicely into a sofa, and during the day I emphasized its sofa-ness with cushions. I also always had a wardrobe into which all my clothes and, if necessary, bedding or any girl stuff could disappear. A room is a room; it's only a bedroom if you say it is. It could just as easily be an office, a sewing-room or a dining-room. (I'm writing to you from what was once a 19th century linen closet.)  The absence of an obvious bed and the presence of a big trestle table down the room announces, "I am now a dining-room."

If you have a single bed, you can disguise it as a couch by turning the pillows into cushions, hiding your woolly toys (stuffed animals), and masking anything lacy with a hearty striped blanket.

If you have a desperately girly bathroom, you can make it more resemble a B&B bathroom by throwing anything terribly personal into the laundry hamper and putting a towel on top.

In my bed-sit days, I had a large round table around which I could sit four or five. It sat in a big bay window--in both bed-sits, as I always chose my bed-sit for its bay window. For a larger dinner party, I would have borrowed a trestle table from the church hall, which would have necessitated getting a friend to help me carry it through the back streets, but such is life. I suppose I would also have had to borrow chairs from the church hall or have had to ask guests to bring their own chairs. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Finally, if you still feel weirded out by entertaining male guests in your "bedroom", then just make sure there is always a female guest with you in it and that the last guest to leave is not the socially clueless male one perched on the edge of your bed sofa saying, "I don't feel at all tired."

Another note on nicotine: The reason why a smoker has to ask a hostess if he may smoke is not merely that she might hate the smell of stale tobacco smoke in her curtains. (A good hostess pretends not to care about her curtains.) It is because she is responsible for the comfort of all her guests and is best able to judge if any of them have--or she has--asthma or other serious respiratory problems or are trying desperately to quit smoking themselves. (A good guest considers how his actions may affect his hostess and fellow guests.) A hostess must not treat her smoking guest as an enemy of society but as someone who enjoys nicotine the way others enjoy a glass of wine. She sympathizes with his need to quell his nic fit and suggests the most convenient and comfortable way for him to do so without discommoding or discomfiting anyone else.

This may mean showing the smoker the quickest route to the fire escape, or it may mean offering him a cigarillo from her own portable humidor. It all depends on the other guests, and their tolerance or enjoyment of tobacco. Personally, I loathe cheap cigarette smoke, but do not mind smelling good tobacco, used in moderate amounts. Were it not forbidden to strike a match in the Historical House, I would permit smoking in the dining-room after dinner, but not of hideous, cheap cigarettes. And I would cart the ladies away to the sitting-room either at once or the moment the air grew blue.  

Incidentally, you are responsible to making sure your guests don't drink and drive. If they are foolish enough to want to do so, tell them they can't and call them a cab. In the UK, you can head off such unpleasant end-of-evening altercations but saying things like "As you're driving, Scooter, I won't offer you any dessert wine."


Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I was in the shower once when a workman came... and he'd been shown that the backdoor was unlocked before... no awkward semi-clothed encounters but I don't think there was any secret that on the weekends I take dreadfully late showers. :-)

I did actually hear from an internet acquaintance a much worse story than yours - and since she posted it on a public forum several years ago (no need to register to read it) I don't think she'd mind my sharing. She didn't expect a workman to show up at the beginning of the window and had forgotten underwear among her clothes for the shower, so after finishing she walked out in her birthday suit to grab some... and saw the plumber. Despite her shock, she just decided to continue on her way, said hello, grabbed her panties, and went back to the bathroom to dress. I've never forgotten that story, although perhaps had I paid better attention I wouldn't have been somewhat caught out myself that one time. :-)

I had a big party in my room for Christmas (well, closer to Orthodox Christmas) when I lived abroad and basically I made my bed un-bed-like by taking all but the bottom sheet off and using it as a sofa. :-) I needed all possible seats, so no one thought much of it.

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of Rachel Khoo who ran a restaurant from her studio flat in Paris. Check out her kitchen, that lady is organised. And the red lipstick!