Pan Paperbacks and Cocktail Parties

April 17, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking | Leave a comment
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Remember those fabulously lurid Pan paperback books from the 1970s? Well, the publisher’s slightly earlier non-fiction list seems to be guiding my life at the moment. This is no bad thing. A couple of months ago I picked up The Pan Book of Etiquette and Good Manners (1962) in Oxfam and a couple of days ago a friend sent me a copy of Booth’s Handbook of Cocktails and Mixed Drinks (1966). Etiquette is penned by a lady called Susan Maclean who was also a contributor to Woman magazine; Booth’s by John Doxat, ‘publicity controller’ for Booth’s gin and apparently something of a bon vivant.

Both books are full of numerous pearls of wisdom. Etiquette was definitely written with a female audience in mind, although rather endearingly my copy has a bookplate with the name ‘John Trett’ inscribed. I wonder what Mr Trett made of the chapter entitled ‘The Men in a Woman’s Life’? Perhaps he actually bought it for the insight it could offer into the feminine mind? This chapter contains the answers to all sorts of queries, for example, who pays on a date? Should you give your gentleman friend a goodnight kiss if he has paid for everything during the course of the evening? In case you’re wondering, the answers are: on the first date you can generally expect a chap to treat you but thereafter you should always offer to ‘go Dutch’. On the kissing issue, Miss Maclean says ‘though there are men who think in terms of a return for their money they rarely respect a girl they suspect of thinking along the same lines. Take the money spent on you as your due, thank him for a lovely evening, but don’t kiss him unless you want to.’

There are also tips on office etiquette for working girl, how to address a letter to royalty, what to wear to a film premiere or a night at Covent Garden, and how to host a cocktail or bottle party. Needing little excuse to drink cocktails and force others to do so too, I’ve decided to host my own soiree later this month, following Miss Maclean’s suggestions. These include advice on the correct form of invitation – the ‘at Home’ card, what to drink and how to look after your guests. The Pan Book of Etiquette is, strictly speaking, probably a little too late to have been used by Aunt Fanny when planning a drinks party (while George and her cousins were safely out of the way at boarding school). However, as the book was published within the span of the Famous Five books being written I therefore claim license to imagine similar guiding principles being used by Mrs K. Incidentally, [FF illustrator] Betty Maxey’s version of Uncle Quentin, complete with 70s moustache and flares, would almost certainly have read Pan’s 60s and 70s editions of the James Bond novels, his earlier Eileen Soper incarnation would probably have enjoyed and partially identified with Nigel Balchin’s The Small Back Room, which focuses on the work of scientists (the ‘back room boys’) during the Second World War.

As a wonderful RSVP to my ‘at Home’ invitation, one of my guests-to-be very kindly sent me Booth’s Handbook of Cocktails and Mixed Drinks. Commissioned by Booth’s, the legendary distillers of London gin, the book actually covers all sorts of alcohol and gives recipes for classics as well as now lesser-known cocktails. I particularly like the chapter on bitters and vermouths, having a penchant for Campari and its ilk (one cocktail I’ll be serving will be the Negroni – 2 parts dry gin, 1 part Campari and 1 part red vermouth, poured over ice, topped up with soda and garnished with a twist of orange peel).

To return to Pan books, they actually have a really excellent list and are compulsively collectable (and more affordable than early edition Blytons it must be said). I’ve got an almost full set of the Bond novels plus my small but growing set of 60s lifestyle guides. You can find out more about Pan via this collector’s website and I will leave you with some cocktail party tips, courtesy of Mr Doxat and his chapter ‘A Bar of One’s Own – Let’s Give a Cocktail Party’ (all direct quotes):

  • You don’t need a bar in order to give a Cocktail Party, although if you do have a bar you are bound to […] Decide on a basic one or two Cocktails, say a dry one and a sweet one, or a Cocktail plus a Cup or Punch. There is nothing wrong in preparing these a little in advance and storing them in a refrigerator, although you may prefer to mix these in front of your guests.
  • One thing you will need is more ice that any normal household can provide: in plenty of time, order some from your fishmonger, and rinse it well. To break it up you need a sharp pick […] If set out in an ice bucket for use in Cocktail-making or by guests, a splash of soda-water over it prevents the lumps sticking together as if cemented.
  • Send your invitations out well in advance. These can range from an extravagant engraved personalized gold-edged card to a simple do-it-yourself handwritten invitation. I suggest a card of elegant (non-gimmicky) form which you can buy at any decent stationers. Get one clearly marked RSVP (or definitely requesting a reply)
  • Do not try to get in more people than your room(s) will comfortably hold. Remove your more frangible ornaments and put them out of reach. Set out every ashtray you can find.
  • Children, unless precociously well-behaved, are not an adornment at these essentially adult events.
  • Friday is usually an excellent day for a party, a good run down to the week-end, although I know people who choose Mondays as they reckon it brightens the beginning of the week.
  • You will need to provide some small snacks. The lazy, expensive way is to buy these in a delicatessen. In place of the usual canapés – which I have elsewhere described as ‘scraps of offal on soggy toast’ – I prefer the following simple, easily prepared ‘eats’: really spicy little sausages; plain whole green olives; a good paté on crisp little biscuits; home-made cheese straws; cubes of New Zealand [why?] cheddar cheese; there is an infinite variety of nibbles one can dream up or get from books.
  • Simplicity [in food] is the thing to go for; and nothing that needs more than two bites. Place ‘eats’ around so those that want to can help themselves; don’t lunge at your guests with possibly unwanted nourishment.
  • A thoughtful host might provide some of those small mild cigars that are increasingly popular
  • Be mindful of those you know to be driving when they leave you and do not press on them that most fatal of all British drinks, One For the Road.
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