Tonight is the grand dinner in the Grand Hall of London’s Guildhall, where invited guests, judges and shortlisted nominees will be dining on porcini soufflé with a warm salad of wild mushrooms, black truffle shavings and cep velouté to start, then roast lamb with all the trimmings and a dessert of autumn textures and scents.
I do love how twitter lends a sense of occasion to an event I am far from, but can so vividly imagine thanks to our ever faithful, if somewhat distracted guests.
It takes me back to a time-out year while studying in London and working part-time as a silver service waitress, serving many of the worshipful companies of vintners, weavers, apothecaries, blacksmiths, basketmakers, bowyers, broderers, feltmakers, farriers (ancient trade and craft brotherhoods fraternities), referred to collectively as livery companies, of which more than 100 continue to survive and meet inside some of the most extraordinary inner environments in the City of London today.
The livery companies are said to have originated in England before 1066. Guilds or associations were very popular throughout Europe and here in France, they remain prolific, although without all the pomp and ceremony that I was witness to during that year in London.
Rose petals in finger bowls and the loving cup ceremony, where two daggers are passed from man to man, while a third man (or woman) drinks in a protective ritual said to date back to Saxon times when King Edward was assassinated (stabbed in the back), place settings for multiple courses, at least 4 glasses for the water, wines and port and women smoking cigarettes in long-stemmed holders.
They had responsibility for standards, policy, educational qualifications, statutory and regulatory functions, and many of the guilds continue to play an important role in those areas today – however I was only witness to their meal time etiquette, which as a foreigner was a fascinating world to me, like living inside a medieval book for a night – surreal and the experience came with no explanation, only how to serve meat and vegetable using a fork and spoon in one hand, while holding a heavy plate with said food in the other. I developed very strong biceps and a unique cultural insight.
Today many of the City’s (London’s inner financial district) street names – such as Milk Street, Bread Street, Ironmonger Lane, Poultry, Cloth Fair and Mason’s Avenue – mark the sites where it all began.
And tonight book lovers and writers gather in that great medieval-style guildhall to celebrate literature and make one writer’s night, one never to forget.
Now that I’ve spent the last hour on a bit of a nostalgia trip, let’s check twitter again to see what we will be reading, will it be Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home, the one on the list I have read, or Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists which I haven’t read, though I did just read his first novel The Gift of Rain.
………and the winner of the Man Booker Prize for 2012 is……..
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel!