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Classic design by Ray

Cassandra Hilland solves an NQT image crisis.

Friday columnist Gemma Warren's lamented her lack of "dinner party cool" a while back. She sounded desperate to "get it right" - anxious to speak, cook, and dress to impress.

Having gone through a similar experience when I started teaching, I can empathise with that awful realisation that your "home" is about to be invaded by "established" home-owning friends who will see your flat for the rented hovel it is. Cold, clammy panic sets in...

Gemma solved her image crisis by filling her flat with "interesting" bric-a-brac.

Three years ago, I had a similar problem. My colleague and I - both NQTs - had recently moved into an unfurnished flat.

Perfect place for a flat warming - except that we had no tables. Or chairs. Never mind how we would appear to our guests - where were we going to put them? Or the food for that matter?

Who could we filch a table and chairs from? Nobody had anything and we couldn't afford to buy. It wuld have to be called off.

With two days to go I told my sad story to Ray, our caretaker. Like a slightly grubby genie, he beckoned me towards one of the "huts". Inside was an Aladdin's cave of obsolete tables - from the days when students had wider desks with inkwells and drawers, and class sizes were smaller.

We got our table and the loan of six of those design classics - the moulded plastic school chair. I was a little put out by the "Dobson is a git" scrawled in Biro on the desk, but it's amazing what a power sander and a splash of antique pine varnish can do.

The chairs were swathed in throws and cushions. Finally, a selection of lanterns and our "best" tableware actually made the whole thing look - well, rather nice actually.

Best of all - one of the most style-conscious of our guests complimented us on our "lovely antique table" . Was it"auction or restoration?". "Restoration", we replied.

Cassandra Hilland teaches at a sixth-form college in Surrey

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