Twice a year, in summer and winter, for about six weeks each time, people in the valley in and around our little town feel the party spirit come upon them. Well, the summer party season is well and truly with us and invitations are coming in thick and fast.
Not all of them are big dos, there are drinks parties, tea parties, select little dinner parties for four, six or eight (rarely more, because nobody nowadays has a dining table, much less a dining room, big enough to seat ten or more), huge outdoor barbecues, where you had better bring a coat against the evening chill and a cushion to sit on - as chairs and benches have been waiting outside all day, they have probably been rained on.
Barbecue fare is best sampled on a full stomach - always eat something at home first!
Chargrilled food can play havoc with your digestion. In order not to look a spoilsport you can always fill your plate with plain boiled rice salad, green lettuce and white bread rolls; both have invariably been available at any barbecue I have ever attended. The other possibility is that your host has forgotten to light the coals in good time - this often happens at barbecues in aid of something or other, where several men are in charge of joint proceedings - which means that you get no food for hours or that your sausages are raw inside.
Drinks parties are slightly more civilized, your considerate hosts have provided room inside, where the guests can take shelter from sudden downpours. This is England, after all, there is usually a shower at least once a day. Drinks parties are noisy affairs, they usually happen before dinner, between six and eight in the evening, unless they are at that ungodly time of Sunday morning, before lunch. There's not much point in finding a seat, everyone is standing around and talking busily; if you are sitting down all that talk happens above your head and you are left out.
Come to think of it, maybe that is not such a bad choice after all. If you choose a nice, comfy seat anywhere near the "nibbles" table you could nick all the juiciest olives and unbroken cheese straws. And have a nap. Drinking before lunch or dinner can be quite hazardous.
Cosiest of all are the tea parties, they are usually held inside; bees and wasps and other insects all love the smell and taste of strawberry cream teas and cakes and scones as much as some humans do and are therefore best excluded.
Tea parties are the preferred option for the older generation; they like to get back to their comfortable sitting rooms in good time for the evening news and maybe a favourite soap opera. Besides, all that starch does make one feel rather drowsy.
This leaves the dinner party, which can last for many hours, until late into the night, if you are lucky or maybe unlucky, depending on how much you are enjoying the occasion. At one recent such party I came home with face cramp from many hours of determined smiling. The hosts themselves are excellent people, who provide delicious food and dispense drink with a liberal hand. The problem was that one of the guests felt obliged to entertain the party, ably encouraged by his wife. All I remember now is a joke the man told:
A barber complained that making a living from cutting hair in these days of the credit crunch
was getting ever more difficult. He was therefore contemplating going into the hedge trimming business as a sideline.
The man swore blind it's a true story. Yes, well.
At another recent dinner party the host read his own poetry and the hostess played Mozart on the piano, followed by Irving Berlin songs which were sung by a lady guest. Actually, you may not believe this, but I really enjoyed that party.
It is rather bad form to accept hospitality and not return it. My turn next.
photo Huub Koch