[At this time of austerity many of us neverthless feel obliged to hold a party. So here are some useful tips from Kingsley Amis, the master of mean-spirited parsimony and calculated vindictiveness at party-time]:
The point here is not simply to stint your guests on quality and quantity – any fool can pre-pour Moroccan red into burgundy bottles, or behave as if all knowledge of the existence of drink has been suddenly excised from his brain at 10 p.m. – but to screw them while seeming, at any rate to their wives, to have done them rather well. Note the limitation: your ideal objective is a quarrel on the way home between each husband and wife, he disparaging your hospitality, she saying you were very sweet and thoughtful and he is just a frustrated drunk. Points contributing to this end are marked *.
* 1. Strike at once by, on their arrival, presenting each lady with a rose and each gent with bugger-all. Rub this in by complimenting each lady on her appearance and saying in a stentorian undertone to the odd gent, “I heard you hadn’t been so well” (=pissed as a lizard every day) or “You’re looking much better than when I saw you last” (ie with that emperor-sized hangover).
2. Vital requirement: prepare pre- and post-dinner drinks in some undiscoverable pantry or broom-cupboard well away from the main scene. This will not only screen your niggardliness; it will also make the fetching of each successive round look like a slight burden, and *will cast an unfavourable limelight on any individual determined to wrest additional drinks out of you. Sit in a specially deep easy-chair, and practice getting out of it with a mild effort and, later in the evening, a just-audible groan, though beware of overdoing this.
3. As regards the pre-dinner period, procedures vary. The obvious one is to offer only one sort of drink, a “cup” or “punch” made of cheap red wine, soda water, a glass of cooking sherry if you can plunge that far, and a lot of fresh fruit to give an illusion of lavishness. Say you invented it and add menacingly that it has more of a kick than might be expected. Serve in small glasses.
The cold-weather varient of this – same sort of wine, water, small glass of cooking brandy heated in a saucepan, pinch of nutmeg on top of each glass or mug – is more trouble, but it has two great advantages. One is that you can turn the trouble to positive account by spending nearly all your time either at the cooker, conscientiously making sure the stuff goes on being hot enough, or walking from the cooker – much more time than you spend actually giving people drinks. The other gain is that after a couple of doses your guests will be pouring with sweat and largely unable to take any more. (Bank up the fire or turn up the heating to aid this effect, remembering to reduce the temperature well before the kicking-out stage approaches.)
If, faced with either of these, any old-stager insists on, say, Scotch, go to your pantry and read the paper for a few minutes before filling the order. * Hand the glass over with plenty of emphasis, perhaps bawling as you do so, “One large Scotch whisky delivered as ordered, sah!”
Should you feel, as you would have reason to, that this approach is getting a little shiny with use, set your teeth and give everybody a more or less proper drink. You can salve your pocket, however, by adding a tremendous lot of ice to fill up the glass (troublesome, but cheaper than alcohol), or, in the case of martinis, by dropping in an olive the size of a baby’s fist (see Thunderball, by Ian Fleming, chapter 14). Cheat on later drinks as follows: in preparing a gin and tonic, for instance, put the tonic and ice and thick slice of lemon in first and pour on them a timbleful of gin over the back of a spoon, so that it will linger near the surface and give a strong-tasting first sip, which is the one that counts. A friend of mine, whose mother-in-law gets a little excited after a couple of drinks, goes one better in preparing her third by pouring tonic on ice, wetting a fingertip with gin and passing it round the rim of the glass, but victims of this procedure must be selected with extreme care. Martinis should be as cold as before, but with plenty of melted ice. Whiskies are more difficult. Use the back-of-the-spoon technique with coloured glasses, or use then darkest brand you can find. Water the sherries.
4. Arrange dinner early, and see that the food is plentiful, however cheap it is. You can get away with not serving wine with the first course, no matter what it may be. When the main course is on the table, “suddenly realise” you have not opened the wine, and proceed to do so with a lot of cork-popping. The wine itself will not, of course, be French or German; let us call it Ruritanian Gold Label. Pour it with ceremony, explaining that you and your wife (*especially she) “fell in love with it” on holiday there and will be “interested” in people’s reactions. When these turn out to consist of polite, or barely polite, silence, either say nostalgically that to appreciate it perhaps you have to have drunk a lot of it with that marvellous local food under the sun, etc., or announce bluffly, “Doesn’t travel well, does it? Doesn’t travel.” Judge your audience.
5. Sit over the remains of dinner as long as you dare or can bear to, then take the company off to the drawing-room and make great play with doling out coffee. By this stage (a vague, prolonged one anyhow), a good half-hour of abrupt and total forgetfulness about the very idea of drink can profitably be risked. At its end “suddenly realize” you have imposed a drought and offer brandy, explaining a good deal less than half apologetically that you have no cognac, only a “rather exceptional” Armagnac. This, of course, produced with due slowness from your pantry, is a watered-down cooking brandy from remote parts of France or from South Africa – a just-potable that will already, did they but know it, be familiar to those of your guests who have drunk “Armagnac” at the average London restaurant. * Ask the ladies if they would care to try a glass of Strelsauvada, a “rather obscure” Ruritanian liqueur made from rotten figs with almond-skin flavouring which admittedly can “play you up” if you are not used to it. They will all say no and think highly of you for the offer.
6. Play out time with groan-preceded, tardily-produced, ice-crammed Scotches, remembering the recourse of saying loudly, * “I find myself that a glass of cold beer [out of the cheapest quart bottles from the pub] is the best thing at this time of night.”
7. Along the lines of sticking more fruit than any sane person could want in the pre-dinner “punch” or “cup”, put out a lot of pseudo-luxuries like flood-damaged truncheon-sized cigars, bulk-bought * after-dinner mints, bankrupt-stock * vari-coloured cigarettes, etc.
8. Your own drinks. These must obviously not be allowed to fall below any kind of accustomed level, however cruel the deprivations you force on your guests. You will naturally refresh yourself with periodic nips in your pantry, but going thither at all often may make undesirable shags think, even say, that you ought to be bringing thence a drink for them. So either choose between a darkly tinted glass (“an old friend of mine in Venice gave it me – apparently it’s rather valuable, ha, ha, ha”) and a silver cup of some sort (“actually it’s my christening-mug from T.S. Eliot-believe it or not, ha, ha,ha,”) which you stick inseperably to and can undetectably fill with neat whisky, or boldly use a plain glass containing one of those light-coloured blends known, at any rate in the U.S.A., as a “husband’s Scotch” – “Why, hell, Mamie, just take a look; you can see it’s near as damn pure water,” and hell, Jim, Jack, Joe and the rest of the crowd.
9. If you think that all or most of the above is mere satirical fantasy, you cannot have been around much yet.