In the mid-19th century, no self-respecting home was without an electric-shock machine, a state-of-the-art gadget that, it was claimed, could cure everything from poor eyesight to baldness to problems in the bedroom.
With a naughty nod to this brief Victorian craze, dinner guests boarding the Hendrick's Horseless Carriage of Curiosities are asked, politely, to hold a cucumber, through which they are given a harmless though mildly unpleasant electric shock.
"Just to get you in the mood," our host assures us.
The Carriage of Curiosities is a 19th-century railway car stuffed full of artefacts and curios, including a Dodo bird-caller, a tea-cup-stirring device and odd medical instruments, the purpose of which is best left to the imagination. Over the last two years the Carriage has played host to literary salons, storytelling workshops and master classes in cocktail making. Tonight, nine guests will enjoy A Sublimely Absurd Word Eating Dinner, in which literature, gastronomy and theatre converge.
Once seated, we are served with the first of many eccentric gin-based cocktails and a menu courtesy of the self-styled jellymongers and "architectural foodsmiths" Bompas & Parr. Our host, Kit Cox, dressed in waistcoat and cravat and with waxed moustache, reads excerpts from Victorian literature. Before a starter of black pudding and "crow" (actually, apologetically, pigeon), Cox reads a passage from Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven. A main course of venison, seaweed and mushroom pie is accompanied by a page from The String of Pearls: A Romance, a story published as a penny dreadful in the 1840s and famed for its protagonist, Sweeney Todd. There are snails on silver skewers, suggestively moulded jellies, aphrodisiac marshmallows, strawberries doused in ether and a lesson in how best to take snuff. As the conversation moves from Shaw's Pygmalion to taxidermy to Victorian gin consumption, a woman sits in the corner, wearing striped stockings and with a lampshade on her head, mournfully playing the saw.
A Sublimely Absurd Word Eating Dinner brings literary history to the dining table and revives the lost art of conversation. "We'll make you eat your words," our cucumber-wielding host assured us. He was right.
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