Thursday, 12 August 2010
H is for Hospitality
I love being the hostess. I have no idea why; it’s often a stressful, thankless, one-sided thing to open your home and feed and water people, but maybe it’s my own personal control freak thing. I love the triumph of a good night, well thought-out snacks and drinks, themes and celebrations and the sounds of people laughing and talking in the comfort of my home. When I was little and at Brownies, we were set the mammoth challenge of achieving our Hostess badge: this involved putting a small shop-bought cake on a plate, making a cup of tea and serving them to a volunteer ‘examiner’ (the intensity was in no way lessened by the fact that this was my mum.) I think I did fairly well, although I’m not sure what the criteria for failure would have been – spillage, plate-smashing or insulting your guest, perhaps? I remember the task vividly, even though in hindsight you’d think it was a quaint finishing school assignment rather than a 90s after-school project.
When my most exotic relative, my aunt from Switzerland, would come to stay with my family, my sisters and I would often create a ‘hotel’ environment for her; carefully-scrawled menus for breakfast in bed, 24-hour service and welcome notes in her guest bedroom. It is unclear why this generosity was reserved for her alone, but she played along admirably during her stays at the Swan Hotel, even when Weetabix and Coco Pops were the only items offered in the Continental breakfast. So I’ve always enjoyed hospitality, in play if not work – my few stints in catering and bar work were less enjoyable, rude customers, sticky floors, complaints and all. My mum and my grandma both have the inclination as well, in that when people visit there will be premeditated refreshments and a selection of drinks on arrival.
Lots of my food and drink memories are based around this civilised touch – on hot, sticky driving holidays through France, Spain and Italy, we would stay at Eurocamp sites, where you would be met by the reps as you pulled in, taken to their tent and fixed a drink of your choice to unwind from the journey (always exciting). I lived with an excellent hostess in my second year at university (not usually the domain of domestic goddesses), who taught me the grave importance of quality shot glasses, proper coffee and matching your party food to the ambience of the event. I left that flat a much better hostess and full of enthusiasm for full on, fifties-style hospitality. In a less intelligent life I think it might have been fun to be a party or wedding planner, and in retirement I still think it would be incredible to run a sweet little café or tea room.
This isn’t to say I want to abandon all career aspirations, become a WAG and suppress any irritating backchat that might upset the all-important man in my life. But I like taking pride in my hosting skills, love a bit of home baking and definitely think cocktail hour should be reinstated. And never underestimate the joy that a pretty Cath Kidston teapot, a nice cake stand (or if you're not the afternoon tea type, premium vodka and a beautiful set of martini glasses) can add to your social gatherings.