Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Not much to Celebrate in Pippa's half-baked book

Poor Pippa Middleton. She has had some awful reviews for her book about entertaining and party-giving, Celebrate.

It's been denounced as banal - "Flowers are a traditional Valentine's token and red roses are the classic symbol of romance"; you don't say - and containing blinding suggestions of the obvious, such as the usefulness of keeping a cake in a tin.

She believes that Sunday is a wonderful time to enjoy a "Sunday roast" and at Christmas, why not teach the kiddies to make "Christmas crafts", such as "red robin Christmas cards", or homemade "Christmas crackers"?

Pippa has three problems in emerging as an expert on home entertaining. First, as sister to Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, she now has the most famous derriere in the world.

Second, as the recipient of an advance of £400,000 for a rather unsurprising compilation of domestic tips, she is the recipient of sarcastic jealousy.

And third, the hope was that Pippa might turn out some hints about living it up with Prince Harry in Las Vegas - now that's partying.

In reality, Pippa's volume is remarkably homely, even prim, and a living tribute to family values. It could have been written by a well-brought-up young lady in 1912, let alone 2012.

However, let's look at the evidence. Celebrate is written in a simple, direct way, taking the reader through the four seasons of entertaining, starting with autumn. It is all innocuous and there are some predictable passages on how to do "leaf rubbing" with the kiddies, or how to greet one's guests with drinks and nibbles.

Those of us who are totally inexperienced in (or lazily incapable of) carrying out any craftwork might feel impressed.

And although Pippa's parents run a party-supply business, she is surprisingly insistent that people don't need to go spending a lot of money on decorations, which they can easily make at home.

She's been mocked for writing that "tea bags should go in the teapot, rather than individually in mugs".

In this, surely, she is contributing to saving civilisation.

The tea bag dunked in a mug of sometimes lukewarm water is a travesty of what used to be a meaningful tea ceremony centred on the kettle hob and the shared teapot.

She seems minded, indeed, to restore afternoon tea as a fashionably acceptable meal. It is a little simplistic to explain that "afternoon tea developed in the late-1800s as a small extra meal to fill the gap between lunch and dinner".

Yet there is a bit of a lost art being recaptured here and there probably are some people who would like to be guided in how to give a proper tea party.

When I was a young journalist, I was told: "Each time Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is played, someone is hearing it for the first time."

So, for me, the most engaging passage in Pippa's book is about how to throw a Burns' Night party in January, with instructions on the correct running-order: 'Selkirk Grace'; piping in the haggis; toast to the haggis; toast to the lassies; the immortal memory (of Burns); songs and dancing; 'Auld Lang Syne'.

Pippa reprints the famous Robbie Burns 'grace before meals', which we could well do with: "Some hae meat and canna eat/An' some wad eat that want it/We hae meat an' we can eat/An' sae the Lord be thankit."

Pippa comes over as a family-loving, quite diligent young woman; not perhaps, equipped with a very colourful personality, but thoughtful about nature and the seasons and keen to make domestic life pleasant for others.

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