As it turned out, the New Year's Eve Party was fairly jolly - though it proved to be an object lesson in the imprudence of reviving ancient ceremonies. Our host, who hails from the north-east, was in high spirits after fortifying himself with a concoction he described as a "Geordie Cocktail". The recipe combines simplicity and potency: 1) take equal parts of vodka, gin and Cointreau; 2) stir together in any suitable container (our host used a gravy boat); 3) drink direct from container.
As soon as our ragged rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" had died down, our host insisted that it was vital for first-footing (the custom retains its potency in the north-east) to take place.
Despite his somewhat bizarre party garb (a suit of Samurai armour), he managed to persuade a passer-by to undertake this task. According to Maypoles, Martyrs and Mayhem, a recently published almanac of British myths and customs, "the Footer is usually tall and dark" and "ideally an outsider". The perplexed recruit fulfilled all these requirements. In addition, as you might expect in the early hours of 1 January, he was extremely drunk.
Nevertheless, this befuddled embodiment of good luck was handed the traditional first-footing symbols of warmth, wealth and food. To be exact, a couple of lumps of smokeless fuel, a packet of salt and a chunk of Christmas cake. Unfortunately, his entrance failed to make much impact upon a party in full swing. To add insult to injury, our host did not fulfil the requirements stipulated in Maypoles, Martyrs and Mayhem: "The Footer should be entertained when he has finished symbolicking around." Instead, the poor chap was left in a corner, still clutching cake, coal and salt, while the Japanese warlord attempted to lead a conga. Understandably chagrined, the Footer declared that he was "fed up with all this" (or words to that effect). On his way to the door, he snatched up a corkscrew which he hurled into the throng. As luck would have it, the device struck Mrs Weasel a glancing blow. Since we're staying at home next Wednesday, she can be assured that the corkscrew will be in safe hands this New Year.
The latest issue of the New Yorker contains a heartfelt complaint about a certain aspect of yuletide. It is nothing so obvious as the grotesque excess of Xmas which gets the goat of a writer called Betsy Berne. She objects to the latest fashion in "chic-Euro-food". Over the past few years, the clementine has become the Christmas fruit de choix in the Big Apple. Apparently, these dinky citruses are now taken to parties "in lieu of a fancy dessert or a bottle of wine". It won't do, declares Ms Berne. "Does a clementine go with a Scotch on the rocks or even an innocent glass of white wine?" she gripes. "Eggnog and a couple of clementines? Uh-uh."
Ms Berne may have a point here - I certainly hope no one brings us a pound of clems as a substitute for Chateauneuf-du-Pape - and I accord with her sour feelings regarding "the few at the bottom that are soggy or, worse, mouldy". But what she fails to understand is that, at least on this side of the Atlantic, the clementine is engagingly user-friendly compared to traditional seasonal nibbles. Despite its evocative aroma, the tangerine is tricky to peel and often contains an unfeasible number of pips. Nuts rarely survive the effort of getting at them and the results - more like bits of wood than anything else - are on the very cusp of edibility. Though I loved the wooden boxes they used to come in fringed with doilies and illustrated with exotic desert scenes, dates taste like a sweetened doormat. However, I agree with Betsy that it takes dedication to polish off a load of clementines. In more ways than one, the fruit rapidly loses appeal.
You may recall my belly-aching earlier this year about the design of cookery books. In particular, I drew attention to the self-indulgent lay- out of the River Cafe Cook Book Two (pounds 25), which culminated in an eight- page picture spread of a man handling Parmesan cheese. It is salutary to report that not only was the volume a best-seller, but it has been copied by another restaurant cookbook which takes designer's conceit to new heights. Those lucky enough to have received The Ivy: The Restaurant and its Recipes (pounds 25) in their stocking will doubtless have been entranced by its creative use of photography. Included among the full-page shots are: a pile of dirty plates; a pile of 13 slices of toast; an out-of-focus shot of a mural of ivy leaves; an indeterminate object wrapped in Cellophane repeated 44 times; an out-of-focus mirror; a left eye and a right eye belonging to the Ivy's owners; a glass bearing a smear of lipstick; a pile of chips together with a half-eaten roll; empty bottles of Fanta and Kia-Ora; an out-of-focus shot of a chef holding a huge fish; a canape of herring roes on toast repeated 54 times; an out-of-focus shot of the Ivy's neon sign. One particular treat is a photograph of the nasty burns on a chef's arms which take up the whole of page 111. The picture may be instructively compared with the over-singed Slow-Baked Shoulder of Lamb occupying page 152.
Something of a faux-pas on the sofa occurred in The Times last week. Though a present suggestion was described as a "vivacious Venus de Milo cushion" (pounds 34.95 from the Museum Store), it was clear from the illustration that the object in question was imprinted not with an image of the legendary armless beauty but the windswept blonde from the painting Birth of Venus. It looks like someone in Wapping doesn't know their Botticelli from their elbow.Reuse content