Laura Macfehin looks into past modes of entertaining and makes the case for bringing some back!
There are things folk have done for fun in the past that shouldn’t be revisited. Staged train-wrecks, mummy unwrapping parties, tours of asylums– all best left in yesteryear. Okay maybe not the train-wrecks one; that sounds awesome, but definitely the other two.
But are we missing out some fine forms of entertainment that simply went out of vogue?
These fine people from Vancouver, Canada have put on their hats and packed their baskets and come out to enjoy the spring air. Obviously picnicking has not completely died out but I feel there could be a resurgence of en-masse al-fresco eating. One need not be religiously affiliated to enjoy this pastime– any community group, club, neighbourhood or extended family can do it, it caters to all ages and is the easiest way to accommodate different dietary requirements.
The difference in how it was done in the past is primarily location and spread. Rather than just eating your fish and chips in the park (which is also a very pleasant thing to do) the effort was made to journey to an interesting and out-of-the-way location. This makes it more of an occasion, as does a special attention to picnic fare. Look at the size of their baskets! A basket that size should carry enough for two or three participants. Cold pies, cakes, delicious fruits, homemade cordials, bags of fudge– basically as much transportable fodder as possible. It should be mandatory to have lie around afterwards. Also– hats!
The Tea Dance
High teas have seen a huge resurgence in popularity over the past few years with many hotels offering this pleasant late afternoon meal of cakes and club sandwiches so why not the tea dance? In the first half of the twentieth century the tea dance was a popular diversion all over the Western world. Usually held on a saturday afternoon, couples could turn up to a hotel or community hall for light refreshments and the music of a live band. If hotels are competing with one another in the high tea stakes what about reviving the tea dance too? All that is required is a dance band or small orchestra and space for couples to take a turn around the floor.
It is true, not so many people can Foxtrot as was once the case, but what a pleasant diversion it would be! Saturday afternoon with a significant other, a cup of tea or coffee, some scones or an eccles cake and a couple of dances and you’re home by five thirty. Sounds great to me! Of course if you know your LGBTQI history you will know that the tea dance took up a special place in Queer culture that outlasted its straight counterpart by a couple of decades. Of whatever stripe I feel strongly that the tea dance is due a revival.
The Sherry Party
Sherry parties were at the height of their popularity in the 1930s. The chief advantages were considered to be that they were simpler to host than the more elaborate afternoon tea and their five to seven time slot allowed men in particular to attend after work. The loosening of previous decades formalities probably also contributed to their being taken up– they could be held in regular living rooms with few props required which made them very appealing the ambitious middle class. New Zealand newspapers of this time are full of reports of ‘very pleasant’ sherry parties held in private homes and occasionally hotels.
Lady Troubridge, in her excellent book Etiquette and Entertaining: to help you on your social way (1935) devotes a whole chapter to the Sherry Party. She espouses an informal approach as both cheap and chic– suggesting that guests be invited by telephone or with “Sherry, six to eight” written on a visiting card and popped in an envelope. In planning such a party she recommends about twenty guests, half a dozen bottles of sherry, a couple of heavy cut-glass decanters (borrowed if necessary) and some plates of “eats” of the “dry and biscuity” variety– cheese straws, oat biscuits, cubes of cheddar. This suggests is enough to supply the makings of a “jolly kind of party, with plenty of cigarettes and talk, that will probably last until half past seven or eight”.
Now maybe you don’t like cheese straws. Maybe you’ve never drunk sherry. But we can still learn something from the Sherry Party. What appeals to me is the narrow focus– two hours after work, one item served and then it’s home for dinner or maybe on to the movies! If you don’t fancy Sherry and Biscuits what about Port and Lemonade and Portuguese tarts? Or Vermouth and Tonic and Madeira Cake? Hell, have a Beer and Nuts party– whatever floats your boat so long as it simple and easy and done and dusted before the summer sun has set!
Between bingeing on Netflix and watching films on our phones we have become somewhat cavalier in viewing practises– but there is something to be said for giving movies their due worth by spending a bit of effort on the watching of them! One of best Halloween celebrations I’ve had the privilege of being invited to are the movie marathons put on by Simon Lambert of the Spoiler Alert! podcast. It doesn’t take an elaborate set up really though– a projector and screen is lovely but a big enough telly and comfy seating is all you really need. Think of a couple of movies you would love to share and some people you’d like to share them with. Stock up on snacks and bring the excitement of the cinema to your living room!
If you are anything like me you hear ‘party games’ and get a full body shudder– visions of audience participation and awkwardly competitive ‘game nights’ might give you an instinctive repulsion to the phrase. However, I have come to realise there are times when games are not only tolerable but they may actually be a good idea. Party advice from the past is full of games that could be played to break the ice or ramp up the laughs at mixers of all kinds.
While you might blanch at the idea of insisting on balloon volleyball or pass-the-orange at your next house party, there are social gatherings when games work. These are events when several generations are present, and there are long spells between stuff happening. I’m talking about Christmas day. The way to get people to play games on Christmas day is first to have the right kind of games prepared. These are games where people can work in small teams and a range of skill levels can be applied. So charades, simple quiz games, puzzles and stuff like making hats out of newspaper.
Secondly– on no account make the game playing mandatory. Ask “who would like to play a game?”; generally only the smallest children will respond in the affirmative. Then pair these small people up with older people. In this way intergenerational hilarity will ensue and you can get on with making the salad. In these moments you will be very pleased you looked up ‘vintage party games’ on Pinterest.
These are a few hospitality ideas I’d like to see reinstated- but what about you? What do you wish would make a comeback- something you remember or something you’ve always wanted to try?