Monday, December 31, 2012

"Dinner For One" and The Critical Mom

When I wrote an American friend that our New Year's celebration involved sitting around the TV eating nachos and watching "Dinner for One," she asked, "What is A Meal for One?"
I'd forgotten that since the 11-minute skit has never been aired on American TV, she wouldn't know about this amusing black-and-white comic sketch involving the 90th birthday of one "Miss Sophie," whose attentive butler is asked to pretend that her four friends, to whom he serves an impressive dinner consisting in Mulligatawny soup (served with sherry), haddock (with white wine), chicken (with champagne), and fruit for dessert (with port), are actually sitting around the table.  The thing is, these particular friends--Mr Pommeroy, Mr Winterbottom, Sir Toby, and Admiral von Schneider--have predeceased the remarkably energetic Miss Sophie, whose butler--of course his name is James--is expected to act their parts ("Same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?" he repeats in apparent hope that she'll let him off) drink their drinks, and then top off the evening engaging in horizontal gymnastics with the indefatigable Miss Sophie.  That James provides this favorite birthday entertainment is what the oft-repeated lines, which you can hear recited all over Germany this evening, seem to broadcast:

James (holding Miss Sophie's elbow as he guides her up the stairs): "By the way, the same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?"

Miss Sophie (with a look of happy delight): "The same procedure as every year, James!"

James: "Well, I'll do my very best!" (Nod, wink, and--at the top of the stairs--a thumbs up).

Americans do occasionally write about this--there's been a post-Colonial interpretation focusing on the way the butler trips over the head of the tiger-skin.  Okay.  But the usual exegesis is a head-scratching "Gee, I guess those Germans like it because they're used to it.  Power of repetition.  Plus ritual:  it's been a staple of New Year's Eve for Germans since 1963.  Just numbs them into amusement, and those Germans don't have much of a sense of humor anyway."

But I live among them and they do.  Oh, they do.  Besides, the sense of humor in the skit, which is not German but British--written by a British comedian and acted entirely in English by two British actors--gets upstaged by the philosophy of the piece, so appropriate to New Year's Eve:  You Are Never Too Old To Enjoy.  To Carpe that Diem and get it on with the butler--and on your 90th birthday, too. 

I'll raise a glass to that.  The one thing I can't get used to is that Germans call New Year's Eve "Silvester" around here.  Because, see, a certain pope happened to have that name--but it always makes me think of the intrepid but foolish Freudy-cat who chased Tweety-bird, or William Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble--and both of these strike me as figures of redemption:  Tweety redeems the idea that smarts trumps bullies, and Steig's Sylvester gets transformed into a pebble but finally recovers and comes to life again!  And that's what New Year's is all about, right?

Now, y'all go watch "Dinner For One" again.   Better than the ball drop, believe me!

No comments:

Post a Comment