Archive for the ‘Mad Tea Party’ Category

By Mel

Over the years I’ve attended many official banquets for many reasons. A few were held in honor of a science fiction convention; others were self-congratulatory awards banquets. I’ve even attended a few at which I was the guest of honor.

No matter the sincerity and virtue of the event, the quality of the food or the service is never guaranteed. Some of the worthiest events have featured some of the worst food.

Now, this is a banquet! Unfortunately, Mel only attended this one vicariously--so he continues to wonder if the food was any good.

For instance, I once attended a children’s book event that was — for reasons never fully explained — held at a fancy tennis club. The waiters served each of us a salad, which we finished because we were hungry, and then we waited for the main course. We waited for many minutes until we were told, with some embarrassment, that the salad was lunch. Most everybody was surprised by this. I know that a really good salad, full of veggies, cheese, meat, and who knows what-all, can be both filling and satisfying, but the tennis club salad was not one of these. It was more like what most restaurants call a dinner salad: greens, slivers of carrot, perhaps a cherry tomato and some croutons, and way too much dressing. Most people who attend a professional banquet know that the food is not the point of the exercise, but these guys didn’t even seem to be trying.

Their lack of care continued to manifest itself during the awards and speeches. The sound was either too soft or so loud as to generate howling feedback. There didn’t seem to be any adjustment in between. The book organization’s officials tried to find somebody at the tennis club who could remedy the situation but could locate no one knowledgeable. One of the waiters tried, without success, to fix things. But we didn’t blame him — it wasn’t really his job. He was just trying to be helpful in an extreme situation.

At the other end of the scale was a different children’s book event held at a fancy restaurant at the top of a mountain in Burbank. I’d been to a few banquets at this location and always found the food to be, at a minimum, satisfactory. There was also enough of it to prevent me from needing a snack before my next meal. It so happened that I was facing an enormous window and could see a huge gray mass of cloud browsing its way across the San Fernando Valley as it dropped rain, while just beyond the cloud creature’s reach the sun still shone. Certainly the restaurant wasn’t responsible for the performance in the valley below, but I did notice that the windows were clean.

The whole production almost made up for the fact that on that occasion I didn’t win anything.


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“The time has come, the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing wax–
Of cabbages–and kings”
Lewis Carroll

When I saw the long-stemmed cabbages at the flower mart a few weeks back, I knew exactly what I was

Too good an idea to pass up--long-stemmed cabbages to go with kings in a centerpiece.

going to create for our Alice in Wonderland/Queen of Hearts centerpiece. Cabbages and kings would be a major part of my table décor. I didn’t know exactly how it would figure as part of the party, just that it would be perfect for the event. I think that’s how Laurie and I often play off each other: We have used many hours of cell phone minutes working out the details of an event. This one proved no exception.

Weeks before the party, I set about creating the elements. I made a trip to Lowe’s, where I purchased a sampler can of bright red high-gloss paint and a couple very inexpensive wooden-handled paintbrushes. When I got home, I spread plastic wrap on my kitchen countertop, opened my can of freshly mixed paint and dribbled it onto the plastic wrap. Then I placed a 20-inch wire in my dribbles and laid my paintbrush at the end. I did this with both brushes and let them dry.

But it wasn’t quite the look I wanted, so a few days later, after my paintbrushes and dribbles were sufficiently dry, I went back, dipped another brush into my paint can and re-dribbled over my old dribbles (bummer, I actually had to clean that paintbrush). At last, I had what looked like paint spatters, now attached to a wire and a paintbrush. I thought that the plastic wrap would slide right off the back of my paint

"We're painting the roses red; we're painting the roses red"--and we're using this brush, complete with artful spatters.

spatters–but no such luck. Instead I had to trim it off with a fresh single-edged razorblade. I now had perfect, almost cartoonlike paintbrushes, ready to paint my white roses red before the crabby Queen of Hearts discovers the error.

Since they were just short regular brushes and I needed them to stand out in the large centerpiece I planned to build, I got out my trusty hot-glue gun and glued them onto rose stems, where they would blend in with greenery of my arrangement. Only the paint brushes–and, of course, my artful paint spatters–would show at the top.

I also taped (with green floral tape) card picks to longer stems so they, too, would stand out. (Card picks are those plastic holders you get when a floral arrangement is delivered, along with a note from your honey.) I took all of the kings out of several decks of old cards, so I could put them in arrangements throughout the house. After all, Alice’s Wonderland does feature playing cards as characters. Yep, I buy my cards at Costco, so I had plenty of cards available!

Cabbages, kings, paint brush...and, of course, a token representing the Queen of Hearts.

Next I’ll show you how I assembled it.


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In my life I’ve attended surprisingly few parties with an Alice In Wonderland theme. I say “surprisingly” because one would think that the wonderful characters, the great decorating clues provided by Sir John Tenniel’s drawings, and the wealth of commercially available material would make such a party an obvious choice.

Laurie and Hazel are about to throw an Alice-themed birthday party for our friend Laurel. I had thought that I would be the guest of honor at an Alice birthday party because of my long love for the story, but I will be 64 this coming July, and I suspect the theme for MY birthday will be the Beatles — as in “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” Laurie and Hazel didn’t want to wait until I am 65 to throw an Alice party, so Laurel is getting it.

Mel came as the Beamish Boy, but he didn't bring his jabberwock. These days his jabberwock book is available at the Kindle Store of Amazon.com.

I was in my late twenties when I attended my first Alice party. I pointed out to Lydia Marano, who owned and operated the late lamented Dangerous Visions Bookstore, that Lewis Carroll had a birthday coming up soon. Immediately she was determined to have a mad tea party to celebrate the event.

And so it happened. Friends and longtime bookstore customers — the people Lydia called “the family” — gathered on Carroll’s birthday, many in costume. (The party was actually held only near his birthday, so, appropriately enough, it was more of an un-birthday.) I myself, dressed in vaguely medieval garb, came as the Beamish Boy of “Jabberwocky” fame. Lydia’s husband, Arthur Byron Cover, who looked more like the Mighty Thor than like Alice, wore a blue dress and a white pinafore. Little cakes, along with cups and pots of tea, covered a long table down the center of the store.

Because we were very much aware that we were in a bookstore full of new merchandise for sale, the guests were careful to be neat at all times. Eventually, this made Lydia crazy. “What kind of mad tea party is this?” she cried, and began to throw wet tea bags around. The guests soon got into the right spirit. Like the tea bags and cake crumbs, the Alice quotes flew thick and fast.

I’ve been watching Laurie and Hazel as they plan Laurel’s party and have occasionally been invited to participate. The planning has been fun and that usually bodes well for the event, which will take place along about the middle of February.

I will make my report then.


(To see my own nod to Alice, read The Jabberwock Came Whiffling, now available on Kindle.)

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