Tuesday, 24 November 2009

THE PARTY'S OVER



Towards the end of last week my visits to blogland were a bit thin on the ground. The reason was that we had a big party chez nous, at Valley’s End.

I am still mad enough to do most of the work myself; when the idea first comes to me , say two weeks beforehand, the whole thing seems a doddle, something I can do in between shooting off blog posts, running the household and winning the Nobel prize for services to the advancement of mangelwurzels.


The rough guest list in my head gets an airing; I also decide which kind of party it’ll be: the stand-around-with-a-drink-in-one-hand-and-a-sausage-roll-in-the-other sort, or the grab-a-plate-and-a-chair-and-if-you’re-lucky-a-table sort.

By about a week before the event the guests have been invited; unless Fido has just died or the whole family is in quarantine due to an outbreak of galloping gypsophila everybody accepts. Believe me, all you good folks living near the fleshpots of civilization, you do not turn down an invitation to any kind of jolly when even a visit to the village hall, where they are showing last year’s blockbuster movie with an interval for a choc ice on a stick while the DVD player is cranked up for the second half, is a major social event.

Now it’s time to make lists; food lists, drinks lists, nibbles lists; you count the glasses that haven’t got broken since the last party, the paper napkins left over from the charity coffee morning, the crockery and cutlery. If you are short, you borrow. From bitter experience you know whose cutlery is not dishwasher-proof and whose crockery is a family heirloom. Glasses we have plenty ourselves; the local supermarket has an everything-for-£1 aisle; several years ago they had a special consignment of practically unbreakable glasses at 3-for-a-pound, which have since done the rounds of the village for every party going; no point in more than one household having a spare box or two containing glasses, each carefully wrapped in kitchen roll and tied with a piece of string for easy transport.

Three days before the party it’s time to panic. But it’s a controlled, well-organized sort of panic. Panic often enough and it becomes routine.

The decision was to serve a-plate-and-fork dinner, cottage pie and vegetables for the main course, apple and plum tart for pudding and cheese and biscuits for any one still hungry. And believe me, my cottage pie is filling. The guests numbered twenty seven, that meant 27 portions of everything, at least, with a bit extra for unforeseen emergencies, like somebody saying, at the last minute, auntie Gwen is visiting, can she come too?

Would the Aga cope? Of course not, it never does. So cooking has to happen in stages. Stage one, two days beforehand, cook the meat part; stage two, one day beforehand, cook the potato crust and grate the cheese topping. Also, defrost the tarts and prepare the vegetables; here Beloved comes into his own, he is a mean carrot baton chopper and his peeling and bottom cross cutting of the Brussel’s sprouts is second to none.

As it is November, the party day dawns wet and windy and the river ‘is almost out’, which means, that if there’s a lot more rain during the day, half the guests won’t be able to come because they live on the wrong side of the bridge, i.e. the side away from our side of the bridge, if you get my drift. A detour of many miles would become necessary, all adding to the by now almost unbearable excitement.

Seven-ish is kick-off. There’s always the couple arriving just a touch too early, catching you swearing uncontrollably at each other because neither of you will accept responsibility for having forgotten to cook the French beans, or unwrap the cheeses or not having thought to get the alcohol-free juice from the shop, thereby turning any driver present into an instant criminal. Beloved invariably falls back on his favourite ‘but I thought you said’ routine, looking extremely hurt and innocent of all wrong-doing.

Suddenly, at 7.20 there is a huge commotion at the front and back doors, half the guests are arriving in a bunch, all divesting themselves of their wet overcoats and rubber boots in your pristine lobby and scullery respectively. You rush to welcome them, carrying piles of coats and shedding coat hangers like matchsticks from an upturned matchbox on your way to the coat cupboard. The rubber boots remain behind to trip you up as you rush to the scullery freezer to unpack the forgotten juice and shove a kilo and a half of French beans into the microwave.

From now on all is organized and orchestrated chaos, glasses have been filled beforehand, nibbles have been distributed, further guests let themselves in singly and in pairs, are greeted and swallowed up by the throng. Noise levels rise steadily, the party is up and running.

An hour later everybody is eating, you have found a quiche for the chap who has become vegetarian since you last met him and there are plenty of bottles of wine distributed around the rooms for guests to help themselves.

You have done it, you could even grab a bite and a glass yourself now, except it’s time to cut the tarts. If you don’t want fruit splodged all over the kitchen you had better load the cake plates yourself, you are probably the only one still sober enough to manipulate a cake slice and a sticky, fragile cake. Not to mention pouring the cream.

Beloved has disappeared into the mêlée, he has been very good and introduced the one couple who insist on being out of things and sitting on the sofa next to each other instead of mingling, to the hostess’ favourite guests, the trio who can be relied upon to judge any situation nicely from the initial friendly smile and warm handshake to the eventual telling of risqué anecdotes. Actually, you have made a mistake inviting the couple, this party is probably going to scar them for life.

Country people keep early hours, even on a Saturday the last guests are ready to leave by midnight; once you have locked the doors behind the last of them you survey the battlefield. There is rarely any damage, you can shut your eyes to the mess for the present, the two of you can put your feet up and wind down over a final, small drink before going to bed.

Once you’ve cleared up the next day, all that remains to be done over the next week is await the pretty thankyou notes and watch the invitations flood in.


18 comments:

  1. You are so funny and describe things so well I was laughing from the early opening statements. And I was exhausted by the first few sentences. Friko you are a brave soul. I truly think this is one of the best blogs and the funniest descriptions on this entry cause I could not imagine such a huge undertaking. I congratulate you!!!

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  2. Friko, You have such a magical way with words. You are able to see the humour or comical 'danger' in any situation. I wish you would write a book. I would (after all my former life experience) stand on street corners plugging and selling it for you.

    You are very courageous to undertake such a gathering. I would end up at the undertakers after entertaining so many. Actually, I say that, but I always manage - although it seems to take me several days to recover.

    Did that couple survive the experience?

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  3. Do you have a book of memorable parties? I like to track who I invited and what food I served so that I can avoid repeating my menu with the same group of people. This was a very enjoyable post. Imagine if the river had flooded, you could have had people staying to breakfast too.

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  4. That was wonderful. For years as the Matriarch of this family I did Thanksgiving and Christmas all by myself for years. Then the kids got old enough to help. Then they started getting homes of their own and I was still beating myself up to do two major holidays just one month apart. Finally at this age one of my daughters noticed we, HH and I,were worn out. So she started to do Thanksgiving, God bless her. Two fiascos in two months is too much for this old lady. Don't get me wrong I wouldn't have it any other way, but this way is better. Come to think of it I think I was a little tipsy by the time they all got here last year and I thing that is when they saw the light.
    QMM

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  5. I recognise a good party.

    We country folk are most appreciative - we remind ourselves we scrub up well and welcome the opportunity to exchange the same-old, same-old gossip while sipping and nibbling. It's what makes the world go round, these homely hospitable gatherings.

    ...and isn't that last small restorative glass when the last guest has gone the most relaxing thing?

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  6. Sounds like a pretty standard knees up to me... Hehehe...You deserve a gold medal for being Hostess of the Year at least!
    Reminds me of writing this:-

    Hostess' Farewell


    Did you enjoy the party?
    We hoped it would go with a swing,
    but next time
    we'll make sure the neighbours are out
    before we let everyone sing..

    Did you enjoy the party?
    I'm sorry things got out of hand,
    but possibly,
    once all the noise has calmed down
    the majority will understand?

    Did you enjoy the party -
    the food and the drink and the fun?
    You must have,
    because you're the last one to leave…
    I'm so glad you decided to come!

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  7. Such a holiday spirit. You go through what I remember when hosting parties like that many, many, many years ago. Now I don't know even 10 people nearby to invite. All my friends live over an hour away.

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  8. Yes, life is great and for many people because of you.

    A wonderful Wednesday for you all.

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  9. Friko, that was hysterical! I couldn't understand half your expressions, but I got the drift! 27 guests are a daunting undertaking, but it went off without a hitch! I would have loved to be there; everyone seemed to be having a good time! Now I hope that you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the others' parties through the holidays? xxox

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  10. Friko, you're an absolutely wonderful story-teller. I was right there with you the whole time! Beautiful turns of phrase, descriptions, observations - the lot! I'd never do it, exhausted as I am just by the thought of entertaining on such a monumental scale, so you have all my admiration for that, too.

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  11. I for one, am wishing I was/am your next-door-neighbor! What a riot! And it's true, guest always(!) arrive at the same time! In my house, this sets the dog a'barkin' and something gets dropped! I love your stories!
    I'm grateful for your stories! xoxoxo

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  12. friko send me an invite next time!!! i've probably gushed about your writing before but you are such a smooth perceptive insightful writer! i wish i could read a book of your stories . . . really i do. have a peaceful day. steven

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  13. Friko
    Your description makes me long for an invitation to your next party.

    I remember giving parties some years back and it was fun but also a lot of stress.

    It sounds like you are the hostess with the most-ess...:)

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  14. everybody - when it stops being fun, I'll stop doing it. In the meantime, you gotta laugh!

    Lucy - thanks for the compliment

    Bonnie - I am not sure you manage just fine. I have had no thank-you note yet from the awkward couple, maybe they are still suffering?

    English Rider - I used to record parties given and returned in great detail, but I can't be bothered now. I just have a note of who came and what I fed them on.

    QMM - two in one month? I'd be dead! Let he kids have a go, you fed them long enough.

    mountainear - ah, I recognise a fellow country bumpkin. We take our pleasure where and when we can.

    Jinksy - that's a brilliant poem, you must know all about parties and their possible repercussions. Luckily, we have no near neighbours and the nearest from across a field was invited.

    Tabor - that's sad. Do you have friends over for the day sometimes?

    robert - thank you robert, have a good time yourself!

    Margaret - what can you not understand? should we have an English/American dictionary email?

    Deborah - that's a lovely compliment from somebody who is a good story-teller herself.

    swallowtail - My dog barks for the first bunch but then keeps quiet. He had some doggie visitors at the same time; dogs are welcome at my parties too provided they keep out of the way and don't beg for food.

    steven - sure, you are very welcome.

    Chancy - you too, come along, the more the merrier.

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  15. I grew up with vast spontanious parties like that with people scattered about the house and stairs balancing plates on knees and lots of fun and laughter. It is something I rather miss here as it is not the Breton way of entertaining at all although we have had a few good parties!

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  16. her at home - we are slightly better off now than in those far off days when parties happened in hallways and stairs and kitchens. We also now have a few extra chairs and tables we can lay our hands on. But otherwise parties haven't changed all that much, they are still lots of people having a good time.

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