Monday, 2 March 2009
The last time I was at Penshurst was when my school performed Twelfth Night there, one wild and stormy January night, as the timbers creaked in the gale and a bat flapped around the minstrels gallery (the poet Sir Philip Sydney, whose home it once was, had been a pupil at the school, although we just missed each other by 400 years or so).
There was magic in the 14th century Great Hall last weekend. It was a clear, frosty night, so cold that each female guest was given a silk and cashmere pashmina on arrival, and a huge log fire was burning on the open hearth in the centre of the room. No new-fangled chimney nonsense, the smoke rose up into the church-like timbered roof, vying with the faint smell of mothballs lingering around Brother Tobias. The masqued guests, all dressed in black or white evening dress, drank champagne and mulled wine as jugglers and jesters wandered amongst them. At the appointed time our host's wife arrived, probably beginning to guess that some sort of birthday treat was in store, delivered to the door in a white coach pulled by two plumed shires.
We ate above the pantry and buttery in the West Solar, part of the medieval building and hung with elizabethan family portraits of gentlemen in doublet and hose and ladies sportingly exposing their left breasts in the interests of classical allegory.
The meal was to die for. I chose the beef - great slabs of filet mignon that melted in the mouth like meringue, washed down with the best of wines. And the waiting was the best I've ever seen; for each course and clearance the staff filed smartly in, their hands behind their backs. Each table was silently surrounded, a waiter or waitress to each guest. Then, at a hidden signal, every plate was placed or removed simultaneously.
At the end of the meal we were treated to this
It was a splendid surprise. The 'three waiters' really had been doing a bit of waiting, and for most of us unsophisticates it took some time to realise that it was an act at all. They were so good that they won a standing ovation.
And then on to a disco in a heated marquee, lined with black drapes and twinkly lights, to dance the night away to an Abba tribute band and a generous bar. I believe I may even have smoked...
This was the sort of party you never forget. In fact in our case it's the sort of party you never get invited to, and it was a joy to be there and forget the gloom and the recession for a few hours.
Posted by Brother Tobias at 15:09