The world is grim at the moment. Having vowed never to discuss politics, I feel I have done little but in the last many months. So it was with great relief that I found THE wardrobe , fur coats a plenty (fake ones, settle down), the one that is the passage to Narnia, last night. It is in Tottenham Hale, by the way, and my daughter Lizzie and I went for a visit. What a gorgeous, delicious night. Ushered through the wardrobe into a grove of snow covered trees and on into Mr. Tumnus’s house, for dinner. And not a single person mentioned an action beginning with B or a person with the initial T for the entire night. Why would they? We were in Narnia. And the Winter Queen held sway. It was cold. Of course it was. But no matter, we had blankets and hot water bottles and chat and food and laughter.
The evening was the brainchild of The Literary Hour, a pop up supper club founded by housemates who decided to combine their love of books with their love of cooking. How clever. They originally hosted the dinners, inspired by a variety of authors including Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter, in their house. For Narnia they took it up another notch and held it at Styx, a mixed arts venue at the northern end of the Victoria Line. Not a warm place, as it seemed to be open to the elements at every corner, but atmospheric and beautifully decorated with fir trees and fairy lights and a dry ice infused rock centerpiece. Our name places were held in pine cones. The first warming cocktail was served in a dainty tea cup. Initial awkwardness quickly gave in to curiousity: have you come to these before, how did you hear about this one, ooh what is in this…so good.
Then the first reading. From The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. The whole reason we were all there, after all. The attractive hostess read from a battered, paperback copy of the book. One that may have taken a dip or two into a bath through the years. A copy that was well loved, certainly. Such a well appreciated detail and it got everyone talking about when they had first discovered CS Lewis. Then the food was served. Each course was introduced with an appropriately inspired reading from the book. My interest in food is usually very low. I rarely go to restaurants, especially fancy ones, as I would much prefer to spend the money on theatre tickets. Lots of theatre tickets. But in Narnia I fell under a multi-course, foodie spell. It is a magical place, after all. Sardines on toast and goats cheese with honey was followed by celeriac soup and then…..beaver salami. “Yes, you will be eating beaver,” our hostess told us. A silence fell. And then a lot of giggling. Turns out, beaver salami is delicious. A little spicy but delicious. Though we couldn’t help but discuss that it was a rather harsh choice, given how the story goes. Poor lovely and loyal, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver.
The turkey ballotines had everyone waxing eloquent. The Turkish Delight offered an interesting range of flavours. We claimed we could eat and drink no more, but a shot of vodka marmalade in a tiny jam jar (so adorable) and a bread pudding made us liars. But as delicious as the food was, which it certainly was, it was only the vehicle, not the result of the evening. For that was the people we met on the night. Again, we are in tricky times. And our natural retreat is to hide behind a device and shun human contact. Or only speak to those who share our opinions 100%, preferably not face to face but through social media. But not tonight. NO ONE was on the phone, except to take few photos right at the beginning. Otherwise it was just chat, taste, admire, discuss, chat more, repeat. To my left were Charli and her sister Steph. Young, enthusiastic and funny. On my right were Elizabeth and Ian. Utterly charming. 30 years after parting ways, 5 children, a death, and a divorce later, they fell back in love. Newlyweds of 3 years. Never say never and all that.
And so the evening through the wardrobe, in the land that is always Winter but never Christmas, flowed beautifully. We could have lingered for hours, but alas, school and work and tube journeys called us away. But for those few hours, we enjoyed Narnia very much indeed. It got me thinking. Could it really be so simple? Could we improve our lives and make the world a better place by just sitting down with strangers, without phones, and sharing a meal? Talking, laughing, being read to from a beloved, battered old favourite? No politics, no selfies, no point scoring, just stories. Lots and lots of stories. Certainly worth a try. Especially if beaver salami is on the menu!