The Queen was talking to me, in the sort of way that Sixth Formers would speak to the Lower Third, trying to be nice, but struggling not to betray their utter contempt for such an un-evolved form of life. Her Majesty was inviting me to a formal dinner. I was immediately thrown into panic - I don't want to go! I haven't got anything to wear! Noooooooooooo! I couldn't possibly go!
Note: These responses are exactly what I would feel should such a nightmarish scenario occur in real life, and I would have to fake my own death rather than put myself through such an ordeal. I would also hate to be invited to one of those Garden Parties for the nation, where I understand one has to wear a hat as well as the clothes one doesn't have. (The Queen has to see all those dreadful hats, and heaven knows, she has enough of her own to put up with; it must be so difficult to ask everybody "Have you come far?" while trying not to snort or snicker at the feathered dinner plates they are balancing nervously on their special hairdos as they strive to curtsey without falling over.)
Worse was to come. She made it plain, in that mysterious unspoken way that can happen in dreams, and perhaps also in conversations with august personages, that she thought I would have difficulties with all the cutlery. I tried hard to convey politely that, actually Ma'am, I was perfectly conversant with the complex array of silverware necessary for many-coursed dinners (not that this is true at all) - but inside, I was terrified that perhaps I had forgotten, and might try to use the fish knife for soup or muddle up the dessert spoons with the fruit knife. Or the salad knife with the oyster fork.... It's a silver-plated minefield out there, dining with Her Majesty. Oh, why had my neglectful parents not sent me to finishing school to learn for ever the finer nuances of feeding one's face in refined company?
It was a relief to wake up, although I felt worried and peevish for some little while afterwards, at least until I had finished breakfast (one spoon and bowl, one knife and plate, a mug, no hat).
If you think I worry unnecessarily, read on. This is what Emily Post advises:
Table Setting Guide: Formal Place Setting
The one rule for a formal table is for everything to be geometrically spaced: the centerpiece at the exact center; the place settings at equal distances; and the utensils balanced. Beyond these placements, you can vary flower arrangements and decorations as you like.
The placement of utensils is guided by the menu, the idea being that you use utensils in an “outside in” order. For the illustrated place setting here, the order of the menu is:
First Course: Soup or fruit
Service Plate: This large plate, also called a charger, serves as an underplate for the plate holding the first course, which will be brought to the table. When the first course is cleared, the service plate remains until the plate holding the entrée is served, at which point the two plates are exchanged. The charger may serve as the underplate for several courses which precede the entrée.
Butter plate: The small butter plate is placed above the forks at the left of the place setting.
Dinner fork: The largest of the forks, also called the place fork, it is placed on the left of the plate. Other smaller forks for other courses are arranged to the left or right of the dinner fork, according to when they will be used.
Fish fork: If there is a fish course, this small fork is placed farthest to the left of the dinner fork because it is the first fork used.
Salad fork: If salad is served after the entrée, the small salad fork is placed to the right of the dinner fork, next to the plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the forks would be arranged (left to right): salad fork, fish fork, dinner fork.
Dinner knife: The large dinner knife is placed to the right of the dinner plate.
Fish knife: The specially shaped fish knife goes to the right of the dinner knife.
Salad knife: (Note: there is no salad knife in the illustration.) If used, according to the above menu, it would be placed to the left of the dinner knife, next to the dinner plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the knives would be arranged (left to right):dinner knife, fish knife, salad knife.
Soup spoon or fruit spoon: If soup or fruit is served as a first course, then the accompanying spoon goes to the right of the knives.
Oyster fork: If shellfish are to be served, the oyster fork is set to the right of the spoons. Note: It is the only fork ever placed on the right of the plate.
Butter knife: This small spreader is paced diagonally on top of the butter plate, handle on the right and blade down.
Glasses: These can number up to five and are placed so that the smaller ones are in front. The water goblet (la) is placed directly above the knives. Just to the right goes a champagne flute (lb); In front of these are placed a red (lc) and/or white (ld) wine glass and a sherry glass (le)
Napkin: The napkin is placed on top of the charger (if one is used) or in the space for the plate.
Knife blades are always placed with the cutting edge toward the plate.
No more than three of any implement is ever placed on the table, except when an oyster fork is used in addition to three other forks. If more than three courses are served before dessert, then the utensil for the fourth course is brought in with the food; likewise the salad fork and knife may be brought in when the salad course is served.
Dessert spoons and forks are brought in on the dessert plate just before dessert is served.
I told Roger and Tim about my dream anxiety; Roger (or was it Tim?) reminded me that at home, the Queen has breakfast served from Tupperware containers. Ah yes, but I'll bet she knows the difference between the cornflake and the marmalade spoons, and never uses the butter knife to spread Marmite....