Last night I was out with the Ladies Who Love Jane Austen for a Regency style supper with readings from Pride and Prejudice and Longbourn by Jo Baker, the story told from the servants point of view. The supper was to celebrate not only Jane Austen but also the twenty-year old TV series of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Elizabeth Ehle in the leading roles. Remember the wet shirt scene? Apparently, the series screenwriter, Andrew Davies, intended the scene to show full frontal nudity because he wanted to show Darcy as a ‘natural’ man usually constrained by the demands of society and swimming naked was the mode for the day. Instead, Darcy went into the lake in his shirt. I don’t know about other ladies but the wet shirt scene worked for me and it is now one of the most famous moments in the history of television. For those of you who wish to check the veracity of the scene I am including the youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hasKmDr1yrA Did you know that Elizabeth Ehle won a BAFTA award for best actress for her role as Elizabeth Bennet but Colin Firth didn’t rate a nomination? They should have created a BAFTA ‘going to the actor with the best wet shirt’ award.
At the Kraft Kaffee, the ladies had put their heads together to create the right atmosphere: a table of ribbons, delicate cutlery, and other bits and bobs, old-style wine glasses and delicious home-made cakes. On the dining tables were white cloths and blue earthenware, stately candles. The blue tablecentres held fruits with grapes draped over the sides. Fans decorated the wall above the window, and Jane’s aphorisms were prominent in wooden frames.
Two of the ladies were dressed in white looking as pretty and fragile as tea roses with their pink and their blue shawls. Another two ladies wore shimmering browns and beiges that reeked of sophistication.
By candlelight we drank wine and chatted over cheese and pate nibbles before we sat down to eat chicken soup, with rolls and salad. This was followed by a sherry trifle, cakes and coffee.
I read chapter 17 from the novel which centred on the terrible stories Wickham had told about Darcy; and shoe roses which the Bennet sisters had to have and which they obtained by proxy. The latter was picked up in chapter 5 of Longbourn, read by Kathleen, when the poor servant had to trudge to town through mud, and rain, and endure a passing carriage splattering her with more mud until she was so drenched that the shopkeeper made her stand on a piece of paper by the fire while he brought her the various shades of ribbon for the shoe roses for her approval.
Every time I read chapter 17, knowing the story, I am shouting at Elizabeth and Jane not to believe all Wickham’s lies; I’m screaming at Elizabeth to see the truth; I’m begging her to realise that Wickham is a cad and will cause great trouble for the Bennett family.
It was a wondeful night. I met new people, had great conversations, was rewarded with kind comments about my reading, and ate well in beautiful surroundings.
The next Jane Austen venture will be in July when we will attend an open air performance of Pride and Prejudice at Malahide Castle. I have plenty of time to make a dress. Excited!
That brings me to going out on a Saturday night. A Saturday night out! A rarity for me.
But as a teenager and in my early twenties it was the thing we did. My boyfriend and I used to go to a pub:The Merton, or the Jawbone. We’d sit in the same spot, drink the same drinks, and talk sporadically throughout the night about nothing much. We’d see the same couples, sitting in the same places with the same drinks and not talking very much. Then the bell would go for closing time, half past ten, I think. There were a few other pubs we frequented but they all had the same routine. The staff knew us, knew our order. There is a scene in the play by Willy Russell, Educating Rita, which is so reminiscent of that time. Rita, played by Julie Walters, looking around at her family and friends in their usual spot in a pub on Saturday night, and thinking ‘Is this it? Is this all there is?’
My boyfriend was ten years older than me and he took me to my first restaurant. I had been to cafes but not to a ‘proper’ restaurant. I felt so sophisticated. It was the Golden Phoenix in Liverpool. A Chinese restaurtant that I learned has recently closed its doors after 40 years in the business.
I remember ordering a chicken curry while my boyfriend ordered a mixed grill. He always had a mixed grill wherever we ate and he always looked at everyone else’s meals and wanted theirs. It was a standing joke in the family. He was rake thin and when we left the Golden Phoenix we’d walk up to Central Station where there was a hot dog stand and he would buy two hot dogs generously served with fried onions, mustard and salmonella.
From my mid-twenties I began to go to some clubs: the Cavern – a dank, hollow, sweaty place, well past its hayday and long after the Beatles; fans standing or dancing; dodging the sweat that dripped from the arched ceiling. Then there was the Pink Parrot, the Montrose, the Grafton; the Pen and Wig; the Lisbon. I think there was one called She were we met Kevin Keegan and then other clubs with names I’ve long forgotten. But I have memories, she says, waving her walking stick and winding up her ear trumpet.
This new Cavern Club bears no resemblance to my memories of it. Coloured lights, guardrail and seating!