After Sunday School we had to change into ‘rough’ clothes and carefully hang our Best Dress and Smart Shoes in our wardrobes and then Go And Play Outside Until I Call You For Lunch. Every Sunday except for the last Sunday of every month, when we had to stay in our Sunday Best, sitting quietly on the sofa in the lounge so that we didn’t get dirty, listening to the radio until it was time to get in the car and drive to the Maitland Hotel for lunch with my grandparents.
A liveried doorman opened the grand doors for us and we entered the plush foyer, went up the carpeted staircase and were met by the majordomo in the dining room and ushered to our table. Our chairs were held out for us and the stiff white napkins were removed from their serviette rings and placed on our laps and the waiters commenced the ceremony of serving the table d’ hote menu.
First came the soup, Cream Of Asparagus, and with it the admonishment from my grandmother to spoon away from yourself, and then the artfully arranged entre; how glad I was when it was Welsh Rarebit! Silver domes were removed from platters with a flourish to reveal the fish course and my grandfather would rise from his chair to come and debone my sole for me.
After this, ashtrays would be brought for the adults, who needed a rest before the main course. Our plates of roast beef or pork were put in front of us at exactly the same moment and we were offered potatoes and vegetables from silver dishes, each waiter had a white cloth draped over his arm and wore white gloves.
Dessert was almost too exciting for me to bear; a triple-decker trolley of the most beautiful concoctions imaginable. Merangue* nests of candied fruits, tiny apple crumbles, fluted glasses of trifle … I’d go into an agony of indecision until my mother selected something for me.
By the time the cheese course arrived; water biscuits heaped with stilton and a crystal thimble of Port for everyone, even us children, my eyes would be drooping and it would be all I could do to stay awake on the drive home. I’d be totally exhausted from sensory overload; the grandeur of the hotel and the opulence of the food.
I saw recently in an edition of Carte Blanche that the Maitland Hotel is now a crumbling den of iniquity, center of the country’s sex trade and a hub of drug activities.
How sad. How terribly sad.
* I was interested to find that my spellchecker rejected merangue; that is how I have always spelled it. I did a quick internet search and have discovered that it is actually meringue.
Pic: tablesettings, scanned from my scrap-book.