Sunday, 20 November 2016

Diverse dishes - and wartime celebrations 20th November

Saloon Bar 1940  Edward Le Bas
© Tate Britain

"For those who eat out in the West End, getting a meal is becoming more and more of a race to the swiftest, in which latecomers are greeted with nothing but polite headshakes and overflowing tables.  The five-shilling limit on bills has no real effect on the cost of dining out - the addition of various 'house charges' and sundry items see to that  - but it does have certain comic results,  Oyster fanciers, for instance, can start their dinner with six oysters if they can afford such luxuries, but if they have nine oysters they cannot have another course, for that would send the bill above the legal total.  A major in Driver's the other evening, affectionally regarding the last oyster on his plate, saw it snatched from under his nose by the barman, who had suddenly realised that he had given the guest ten by mistake. The unhappy major said that they were the first oysters he had had after three years in the desert, all of which time he had apparently spent dreaming about Whitstable Natives.  It didn't make any difference to the bartender, though."

Mollie Panter-Downes, in The New Yorker, November 1943

This wartime austerity continued through 1947:

"Potato rationing is not an unexpected blow, but after two years of peace, this continuous taking in of the belt is becoming very discouraging.  … It was surprising however, to hear that the sweet ration was to be reduced and this at a time when the sugar supply is so ample that some think it might be taken off the ration altogether.  When will austerity cease?"       Mass-Observation Archive, 9th November 1947

But all was not doom and gloom that month: on the 20th November 1947 the country celebrated the wedding of HRH Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip:

"…I turned on the wireless.  A moving occasion….the feeling is genuine enough -- a delightful sort of family feeling. .. We do love our little ceremonies.  And why not? All of us are hungry for colour, romance and adventure.  Today's ceremony symbolised some dormant dream of perfection alive in the breast of every, well, woman at least. …I wept copiously into the washing-up bowl as I listened."
© Mass-Observation Archive, as above, both quoted in Our Hidden Lives  © Simon Garfield

The royal wedding banquet of Anglo-French dishes concluded with an ice-cream bombe, named after the Princess.  Maybe some people even celebrated with oysters, if not so prolifically as Lewis Carroll's pair:


The Walrus and the Carpenter  illus. John Tenniel 1871

"…Oh Oysters come and walk with us!
The Walrus did beseech.
A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each. ….

Four  other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four; 
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more and more, and more --
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore….

A loaf of bread, the Walrus said,
Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed --
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed……

Oh Oysters, said the Carpenter,
You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?
But answer came there none --
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one!"

Through the Looking Glass  Lewis Carroll
(see for the full text)

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