What to wear to a literary lunch (further adventures of an oldie)
I’ve always been slightly intimidated by any event with ‘literary’ in the title, writes Elaine Kingett. Would anyone suss that I grew up on a council estate, and in Basingstoke? If there was food, would I use the wrong fork? Endless possibilities for social shame. A few years ago, I plucked up the courage to go Port Eliot festival, which used to have literary in the title before they widened their scope and attracted the likes of me. Very nice it was too, highly recommendable and fairly debauched at certain times. Deciding recently that I had to get out more on my own, in London, I spotted the Oldie’s (‘a free-thinking, no-bullshit magazine’) literary lunches when Googling distractedly for something completely different. I qualified for the age group and my idol, Barry Cryer, is the compere. Three-course lunch at Simpsons-in-the-Strand, with half a bottle allocated per head. Sorted.
Always a pain eating in restaurants on my own, the food seems to go down sideways, I’m so nervous. After booking my first literary lunch, I was telephoned for payment. I imagined a vetting process. ‘Did she sound posh enough, Fiona?’ and that the event would be a select, small group of diners in an almost club-like atmosphere. Hah! It was massive, more like a convention than a lunch and, horror of horrors, on the seating plan I was on the top table.
I’d already had kittens wondering what to wear. I don’t do frocks but I hauled a skirt out from the depths of my wardrobe and dry-shampooed my hair. It was a treat, the Kate and Sidney pie was top-hole, the three speakers highly entertaining, and all my neighbours on the table were very friendly. No snobbishness, a genuine air of joy. What I did not expect was to be chatted up by Dennis from Manchester who used to be in finance. He invited me to go on to a bar he knew afterwards but I declined. ‘Why didn’t you go?’ said my daughter, in exasperation, ‘You always moan about not having a boyfriend.’ I don’t think a girlfriend was what Dennis had in mind, but I booked for the April lunch as soon as I got home.
(Some names have been changed to protect the innocent).
Elaine Kingett runs Write It Down creative writing holidays.
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