Canapés would have been quite simple in the early days, eg caviare on Ritz crackers, bits of smoked salmon on brown bread, morsels of cheese and so on, and there would have been olives, nuts, crisps, all the usual. It was fine just to have the latter, there was no need to do more as it was a pre-lunch or dinner affair and only lasted an hour or so. Interestingly – well, to me anyway – although neither of my parents smoked, they always provided dishes of cigarettes for their guests back in the early ’60s. That’s a real mark of changing times. I don’t know when that stopped, but ashtrays were still put around for years. Now of course, few people would smoke inside their hosts’ house but go outside for a smoking break, even if invited to stay.
The other thing that strikes me is how much people drank in those days – although I suspect that alcohol wasn’t a part of everyone’s everyday life and just kept for the weekends. As I said in an earlier post, wine was always on the table at dinner time in our house, but that wasn’t the norm with everyone. But at drinks parties it wasn’t just wine on offer but a full range of spirits and mixers. As a child, I remember drinking Bitter Lemon at our friends, Frank and Jean Barnitt’s house, which I liked very much as we never had it at home and it seemed sophisticated. Once I was in my teens I was given sherry and I seem to remember knocking back a fair bit – easily a couple of glasses, enough to make me feel warm and woozy. From my teens, I was allowed wine at home too, but I rarely drank it as it was a bit dry for me, it took some time to build up the palate for it.
But at dinner parties, everyone would start with pre-dinner drinks, at least two, sherry, gin, whisky, Martini or beer, then go on to wine with the meal – a different wine for each course, that is, though I don’t think we ever served a dessert wine with the pudding, then port with the cheese, and/or brandy and liqueurs. Wine was less alcoholic then and glasses were quite small, but even so. I don’t remember anyone ever appearing the worse for wear and everyone cheerily drove home afterwards, but they all must have had what was known as a “skinful.’
An abiding memory for me, and one that I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, is a Sunday morning drinks party when my parents served champagne. One of the guests had Parkinson’s Disease. She was the mother of a friend, whose husband later became our family doctor (it was he who delivered Al) and lived with them. She was probably in her early sixties then, and already quite shaky and incapable of holding a glass steadily. She was always happy, chatty and laughing however, with an indomitable spirit. I have an abiding memory, half a century on, of her sitting on the settee, one person holding the champagne glass, another holding the straw to her lips, another keeping her head steady as she sipped, and of her laughing at the ridiculousness of it, so much that she could hardly drink. As an example of sheer gumption and determination to retain a love of life, whatever adversity hit you, it made a huge impression on me.