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Friday, 11 September 2009


Mr and Mrs Very Rich were knocking back the wine, and chortling, so presumably it was in pleasure rather than mere search of oblivion.
I was still giving thanks that, on their arrival, I hadn’t bobbed a curtsey and mumbled, “welcome to my ‘umble abode, sirr.” Nor had I snatched, too greedily, the stunningly beautiful and enormous bunch of flowers and the 2 bottles of wine which aren’t the stuff of 3 for a tenner.

For, in a moment of temporary weakness (other alcoholic beverages are available), I had seen my hand straying towards the mobile and from there texting Mrs VR asking if they’d like to come to supper and, be careful what you wish for, with obscene haste, they were saying YES. Just like that, in full-on, shouty CAPS. Finally I understood Victorian ladies and their propensity for fits of the vapours.

“What should we bring?” she asked.
I understood; they weren’t used to consorting with proles and needed a clue to our primitive little ways. Or, God, perhaps she thought I needed help, that I needed courses bringing.
“At the risk of sounding like an Alcoholic Annie, just yourselves and a bottle of wine,” I said.

Round about now 2 more ‘yes’s pinged into my phone. Bugger. T12 (T13 since yesterday) was having little mates for a sleepover that night, too. I felt like the Buckeroo donkey with a couple of extra pans on my back.

Mr and Mrs V Rich's house is the one with 2 downstairs lavatories, both featuring fireplaces; with a laundry room; an ironing room; a food room; a boot room; a utility room; a room for the children; a 70’ kitchen; 3? 4? 5? receps; a conservatory – but not as we know it. 3 staircases. I've not been up any of them.
If they’re not just off to South Africa on holiday, it’s because they’re on their way to Australia. Or France, or Canada, or Switzerland, or Cyprus, or the Caribbean or Tunisia. And that’s just in the last year. They are delightful, but there is something about such disparity of wealth which unnerves. They wouldn’t see themselves as rich at all. The pecking order totters upwards ever unto Midas.

We’ve been shovelling friends through, you see, those to whom we owe dinner. Ten at a time for weeks. We’d let it slip. Never again, not in such industrial quantities. (Despite any gross churlishness exhibited here, let it be understood that I am extremely fond of my friends. I just wish cheese sandwiches was all it took. I doubt, please? that I'm alone in this.)

Since there was the requisite vegetarian due, I was settling for dinky little canap├ęs (of which I am pathetically proud), then a fish curry and a prawn curry, followed by pavlova, and a chocolate/coffee/cardamom thing that I made up by chance which sounds disgusting but isn’t.
The idea being that the lot tastes really quite good, but looks effortless. In order to look effortless I had had to start deveining prawns at lunchtime, a grim task which makes my legs itch. But all in the name of looking just knocked up.
Just knocked up had gone on the week before, too, or rather it hadn’t.

Another 10 had shuffled through the portals. A celiac one of the crew that time, along with that weekend’s vegetarian. This always makes me fret – is wheat in rice? I find myself asking, in eggs? Will she be dead by midnight and us kept up late waiting for the ambulance.
All was going well until doling up time when Mr Veg sidled up and said, “You do realise that Mrs Veg is a vegetarian?”
“Yes, yes,” I said, waving a patronising and boastful paw over my old friend the fish and prawn curries.
“No,” he said, and, friends, never has a No been invested with such lashings of pity, scorn and embarrassment, a small word which can burst at the seams with meaning. “No,” he said with studied patience, “A vegetarian. Not a [mere] pescatarian.”
“Oh,” I said, hushed, “a real vegetarian?”
“Yes,” he said. “I should have said. I saw you ladling meat [meat??!] in and should have said.” Then, “I thought you knew? You’ve always got it right before.”
Got it right.

FUCK! What I thought I knew, from a summer’s long experience, was that all vegetarians ate fish these days, besides not being above a spot of bacon or even chicken if the mood or vino took them. But no, I’d found a purist; serendipity explaining away past success. Buggeration and bollocks to it all.
“Can you just knock up a risotto?” he asked.
I love that ‘just.’
“I’ve just ‘knocked up’ this,” I said, “No!” (Believe me, it takes something approaching skill to insert italics AND 'quote marks' and bold into one short sentence.)

Knocked up, my arse. But fortune, or rather my earlier ineptitude, forsook its smirk and momentarily smiled on me. I spotted the little pile of vegetables I’d prepared for the curries, and then duly forgotten to sling in, and chucked them hasty into a pan, and swirled them round with a spoon.
“A bit of garlic?” he suggested. “Some bouillon?”

Some bad-tempered garlic was produced. I pretended to study the label of something or other in a bottle to eliminate the evils of a stray percentage of anchovy, claw or hoof and then shook some of that, whatever it was, in as well, and tipped the lot onto the rice.

“Milla,” hailed Mrs Veg, oblivious to my panic and waving a pleased fork rather wildly, “this is lovely.”
'Lovely' clearly means different things in vegetarian-land. It means serviceable, functionable, edible. All the ‘-ble’s. Just no bull. Ho.

Spooling forward, the day following Mr and Mrs Very Rich’s dining experience chez nous, I bumped into her, out with the dogs.
“Thank you so much!” she trilled, grasping my wrist. “We had a marvellous time!”
I preened everso slightly and might have gone a little pink. It had gone well, tank feck and God knows one thing I am alive to is nuance of disaster. An over-cooked prawn can give me conniptions for weeks, living on cruelly in that grim tease, my memory.
In the distance, Mrs Gossip loomed near. I dreaded her knowing that she’d been left out of something. Well you would, with a name like that.

“Shh,” I hissed, edging my head in explanation. What a waste, I was in need of a wallow, some basking in praise, some run-throughs of how wonderful I was.
She swept on. “But I just must say, I had no idea Mr VR was so very drunk! He nearly fell in the stream on the way home.”
I laughed. It was funny. A pitch black field, a stile, a stream, a bottle suddenly regretted, a slither of an expensive loafer. Besides which I had barely being able to lift the clanking recycling box that morning.

“You couldn’t tell,” I said. “He seemed fine.”She took this for proof that I, too, had but a hazy recollection of the night before. Wrong. Fear sharpens the senses.
(Mrs Gossip was all but upon us.)

“Well,” she said, collapsing her hands with a slap on her thighs, “that’s a relief, because he was SO embarrassed at talking about … you know … money!”
“It was fine,” I said – it had been one hell of an eye-opener. Fascinating.
She looked appalled: I had remembered! Oh, yes. Someone else’s turn to don the hair jacket of The Night Before.
“Very interesting,” I said, but what does it matter? “I’ve never been so close to all those millions. So many noughts, and none of them mine.”
Mrs Gossip beamed the face of one alive to a nugget, a scrap of a story. Mrs VR just goldfish popped her mouth, widened her eyes in a silent scream, and smiled the tight smile of one exposed.

"What are you 2 chatting about?" asked Mrs Gossip, with a caring syrup I have grown to dread.
"Nothing," we both said. A little too loudly.


Anonymous said...

I LOVE reading your posts - so vivid and told with such relish!

Mrs VR sounds like a pretty decent millionaire. But even she would sniff at my hostessing - in a sittingroom so small that turning the coffee table into a dining table is a feat worthy of Twister!

KittyB said...

We have some VRs too - much thought beforehand as to how to keep the conversation going from our side when they discuss their ski chalet or St Trop villa.

Vegetarians are not the problem here - it's the no cow's milk nor wheat nor mushrooms nor peppers guest. Where to start?

ChrisH said...

Well done for handling all the catering - so with you on a cheese sarnie. I'm sure Mrs & Mrs VR aren't Two Downstairs Loos with Feature Fireplaces happier than you 'though. (Oh, Hippo Birdie to New Teenager).

Edward said...

As one who ate said curries, and passionfruit pavlova, and weird-sounding but awesome tasting coffee and cardomom chocolate pudding, I'd just like to say thank you. I had forgot Mrs Veg and her austere ways (how used we are to vegetarians who eat things with faces) and your lucky but impromptu feast of baby corn 'n' things. Of course, you do know that the whole bloody cycle will start again, with us being asked out in our turn?

Pondside said...

That was so much fun to read! Congrats on the vegetarian invention and on your prawn/pavolova success. We don't have any VRich friends, but if we did I'd go back to this blog for dinner-party instruction. I know what you mean about return invitations though - on the weekend we were treated to a mult-course, lovingly hand-crafted, homemade, authentic Japanese meal. It's too late in the season to come back with an invitation to a barbecue on the patio, so I'll have to work up something.

Angel Bluestocking said...

Brill blog!
I love the line - "I felt like the Buckeroo donkey with a couple of extra pans on my back."


Arosebyanyothername said...

We are having a barbecue on the patio tomorrow, but thankfully no VRich folk but a couple vegetarians - they get everywhere these days. Still, it could have been vegans which really makes for problems because you have to get special stuff in that is difficult to source locally. My DIL is a vegan - lovely girl though.

Carol said...

I just can't cope with vegetarians!! Husband is a real meat lover and, being a Scottish bloke, doesn't think that anyone should ever eat anything that is green!! The minute someone says they are vegetarian (a proper vegetarian that doesn't eat fish) it sends me into a blind panic!! I can cook Indian, Thai and Japanese from scratch but ask me to cook some vegetables.....*shudders*

I am most impressed with your coping skills!!

Fab blog post as always :-)

C x

snailbeachshepherdess said...

thank goodness you are back - lunchtimes were getting so dull without me choking on the obligatory yoghourt. Veggies are fine its the vegans that set me into a panic!

Around My Kitchen Table said...

Brilliant blog! This was a great post - very funny. I have no problem with vegetarians - it's their choice - but I don't think they realise the problems they cause when accepting invites. You suddenly have to cater for what is, in effect, two parties at the same time. A real pain. Then, as you say, there are those with special dietary requirements, those on a diet, some who will eat fish but not meat, some who expect you to push the boat out even if you can't afford it etc etc. Forget 'bring a bottle', 'bring your own food' would make life a lot easier!

elizabethm said...

Fab blog. I am so relieved to have moved away from the enclaves of the VRich (although yours sound v decent too). and what great food! Love the sound of the pavlova thingy.

sumarell said...

A wonderful blog Milla. Seriously impressed with your cooking skills - invite me to dinner any time!! I bet the prawns were delicious.


De-veining prawns???? Good God, Milla, you have too much time on your hands!!!! (not, I know - but I'm very impressed, I just let the buggers eat them and be sick!). Veggies give me the hostess horrors. Despite the fact I frequently unwittingly cook 'vegetarian' food i.e not a bit of meat or fish in sight, I panic if one's coming to supper and produce something excruciatingly awfully bland like quiche (shop bought) (and spend the rest of the week apologising), while the rest of us tuck into something meaty fishy tasty.

Great post as ever and, like Angel above, loved the Buckaroo Donkey image. Perfect!

Ps: our Buckaroo Donkey's broken. Spring trouble. Equally a metaphor for self.

PPs: can't believe T12 has morphed into T13. Belated birthday wishes and fingers crossed for sun at Lido party tomorrow. How brave you are!

Frances said...

Milla, you are brilliant!

Why say another thing? xxx ooo

Fennie said...

Ya, Frances, has said it all. You are quite brilliant. And probably (probably? certainly!) with all those de-veined prawns and conniptions afterwards - a word that has me reaching for a bigger dictionary than our humble abode posseses - a superb cook as well.

Expat mum said...

Fireplaces in the lav? Blimey.

LittleBrownDog said...

Well, Milla. What can I say? I don't know how you do it, really I don't. Now surely we should be on the dinner party circuit - after all, we're not all THAT far away. Perhaps you're a bit in awe of my dietary requirements: de-veined prawns a must, followed by that chocolate cardomom thingummybog all shovelled down with loads and loads of wine. Easy peasy. No celiacs or vegetarians in sight. So. Invitation please.

(Unfortunately we can reciprocate with only one downstairs loo, and I'm afraid that has a bag of dogfood in place of a fireplace, and one not-very-clean sink.)

Preseli Mags said...

Superb from beginning to end. Nothing else to add. I loved it. Off now to Google for details of awesome coffee/cardamom/choc pudding...

Welsh Girl said...

I too fall into the trap of wanting it all to look 'just knocked up'. I manage it with my stomach all the time, but with the cooking it's a whole other story, hence burning poiled potatoes (seriously, I did) last week and serving poached pears that I had sort of forgotten to sweeten. EEerugh.

the fly in the web said...

Yes, the curse of the last minute vegetarian....who proves to be a real one, not just one of the pretends because it's fashionable.
I know who is vegetarian among my friends, but it's when someone is brought that things get fraught.
I loved your post and the coffee, chocolate cardamom thingy sounds great.

lampworkbeader said...

Milla, you make me so glad I don't have much of a social life. I love your description of your veggie guest. It reminds me of my Vegan phase of a few years ago, medical reasons only I hasten to add. I went to one function and said rather pointedly, as I glanced over the meat heavy buffet,
'That's ok I'll make do with the garnish.' I still remember the look I got from the host. Could that explain my lack of social life now?

Calico Kate said...

Brilliantly post Milla. Vegetarians don't faze me as we often have a vegetables dish for dinner but I do feel sorry for Vegans, they miss out on soo much deliscious stuff. I have a lovely friend who doesn't look like a vegan. She has shining hair, good skin and perfect nails (enough to make one sick actually) - the only other ones I met look somehow dusty and flakey and all dry and split endy.
Mum had to cater for a vegan and said something about making a lentil quiche for her until I pointed out that quiches have eggs in and Vegans don't!
Now she does B&B and regularly have vegans staying, she's got a series of recipes stashed now for such eventualities!
I did enjoy giggling at your post (and Ed's comment!) would love to have been a fly on the wall for the 'money' conversation & I love the sound of the house.

Jo Beaufoix said...

Wow, their home sounds amazing. And well done on the quick veg meal. I sadly am one of those veggies that doesn't eat fish, but what you made sounds lovely. :D