Continuing the pleasures detailed in the previous post I can
report that invitations to two supper parties last week provided us with food vastly superior to the Plough Inn and many other pubs. Both parties were given by single people and, coincidentally, we were joint guests with the same couple at both. Contrary to the delightful Jane and Lance Hattat's experience, we here at Valley's End try to provide food which is entirely edible for our guests; in fact, if cooking is a problem for any reason, the host might serve a meal partly prepared by a professional and finished off in his or her kitchen. We too reassure each other that we get together primarily for the company, rather than the food, but if these dread words are uttered at your party, you know you have failed miserably.
Andrew had invited us to dinner 'at 7.30 for 8'. I've overlooked such instructions in the past and gone for 7.45, to be on the (guessed at) safe side. This time I actually looked up Debrett's Guide to Correct Behaviour for Every Sphere of Social And Business Life, which has been sitting, more or less ignored, on my shelves for many years. And lo and behold, I did the right thing all along: 7.45 is a good time to arrive for dinner at 8. No host, including myself, has ever managed to get people away from the pre-dinner drinks sofa and to the table for the exact start of the first course; it is best to allow for another 30 minutes cooking time. Another good thing is to feed people small appetisers to mop up the alcohol, or else the start of dinner might be messier than you anticipated. You can always cut down on quantity of the individual servings later.
So what makes a good dinner party? Andrew is an excellent host, one of my favourites; his food is delicious: we had a crusted crown of lamb as a main course. If all is well, food is actually a topic of conversation and wine labels and vintages are much admired too. "Who is your merchant?" is by no means an indiscreet question round here. However, I'd agree with Jane and Lance that the chosen company is the main ingredient for a successful evening. You need at least one easy talker to start proceedings, in this case our Welsh Professor of History certainly was the one. He was there again at Pauline's party a few nights later, but as there were three great talkers and arguers among her guests, the evening was extremely lively. Beloved threw a concerned glance in my direction once, but I was not the only one who made his eyebrows rise. I believe that Pauline had had help preparing the food; it wasn't mentioned, of course, but we enjoyed it no less than had she cooked all of it herself, possibly more so. A stuffed salmon isn't the easiest dish to cook to perfection.
Both Andrew and Pauline are lavish dispensers of good wine, which helps to lighten inhibitions, not that the assembled guests had any to start with. As always, discussion was free and easy, not everyone agreed with everything said and it was wonderful to argue late into the night. At Pauline's, another guest and I re-fought the feminist wars of the 70s. Sue and I can never agree on modern women's attitude to feminism. Sue believes young women today to be as involved as we were, whereas I think that these women have long lost their appetite for the scrum and hanker for a life of docile domesticity. Perhaps we're both wrong and the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Literature never fails to come up, there are too many graduates of Eng. Lit. in this crowd. As Bloomsday was near, James Joyce was mentioned, and it transpired that only one person in six had read the whole of Ulysses or Finnegans Wake, and this person was Beloved, who has no formal higher education other than the study of music at the Guildhall in London. The longer people go to university and the more degrees they amass, the narrower becomes their field of interest. (Yes? Discuss)
I expect social life will quieten down for a bit now. Everybody is working towards the Open Gardens weekend at the end of June and holiday season is upon us too. If I get bored, I shall have to get out my cookery bibles and consult my diary.