A few weeks ago, we joined our neighbours for breakfast at a local establishment – a favourite spot for all four of us. As breakfasts do, they come with the ubiquitous toast and preserves but, as we all went on to note, not always with the appropriate cutlery. Consequently, one ends up having to spread butter and sweet preserves on a virgin slice of toast with a knife contaminated with bacon and egg.
Needless to say, the conversation turned to the days when going to a restaurant included tables set with all the cutlery one might need as well as the now apparently universal use of steak knives. Regardless of the menu. I recall ordering fish somewhere, and having to eat it with, yes, a steak knife.
Although my parents came from working class stock, along with table manners, table settings were a non-negotiable part of our growing up. The table was properly set every evening – knives, forks, side plates and napkins (we never spoke of serviettes), as well as spoons and forks if there was pudding.
Among my parents’ prize possessions was a canteen of silver, Mappin and Webb cutlery which had been a wedding gift from Mum’s aunt. After her long leave in England, Mum went back to Uganda, with the canteen of cutlery in a raffia picnic basket (which I still have, but alas, not the cutlery), in her hand luggage. This lot all weighed a ton, but she swanned off the plane at Kampala airport as though the basket was “as light as a feather” and swiftly handed it to my Dad, telling him that it would not be heavy!This week, my parents would have celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary. They were married in All Saints Anglican Church in Kampala on the 22nd of July 1961, at noon.Both on colonial service, they had met in the club: Dad, a Kew-trained horticulturist with the Parks’ Department and Mum, secretary to the Superintendent of Makerere Hospital. There was not much money for either a wedding or a reception. Dad did Mum’s beautiful bouquet – but more of that another time – and the reception was a buffet lunch hosted by a chef friend, in his home. Quite a party, we were told.
Our home is filled with many beautiful things that were either wedding presents or part of Mum’s trousseau. I grew up these and they form some of the foundation for my delight in setting the pretty tables around which we enjoy spending time with our friends.
On a Sunday, when Mum inevitably served a roast, setting the table was the children’s job. I would often ask if we could “use the silver”. When Mum said yes, I wouldn’t stop there. I’d haul out the place mats and coasters that she and my granny had embroidered – Mum did the cut work and Granny the little roses – all in single thread satin stitch.
Always a little over the top, the table would not just get the cutlery required for that meal – I’d go the whole hog, pretending that we were in a hotel, where the table would have been set for a table d’hôte menu!
On high days and holidays, I’d be allowed to go into the display cabinet (which we also still have) and bring out the Roland Ward wine glasses.This set, which is partnered with a set of high ball glasses, is still complete. One of the highball glasses broke when my parents returned to the UK in 1962. All the rest have survived a return trip to Africa; their numerous moves, and then once I inherited them, numerous moves with us. All stories for another time….
So, a lovely breakfast, good company and part of the great conversation, got me thinking about one of the many lessons I have learned from my parents: what cutlery to use, for what and when. This is why, when establishments don’t get table settings right, I do get a bit tetchy!