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Friday, 30 July 2010


Let it be known that any sentence beginning with an enthusiastic “Let’s …” plays host to an utterly idiotic idea which needs slaughtering right there and then. Kick it to the kerb and turn the TV up loud instead.
We’ll take – let’s take – the recent instance still raw in the flesh of the Milla household of “Let’s have a party.”
I suggested eagerly, E shuddered and went to lie down and I got busy with a list.
“You must be mad,” my mother said; a sentiment that’s come this way from that a few times now.

On the fridge was a yellowing invitation sent out by Mrs Efficient in November. Yes, November, to chime with the Christmas cards. Yes, the Christmas cards, in November. The mind boggles, an Escher unfolding of things which should not be. Still, this shiny rectangle is witness to the fact that even such grotesque planning can go tits up. Minutes after ripping open the envelope on that chilly day, long, long ago, came the breathy phone call. The venue (this was a party with a venue, and a ceillidh, and caterers, 3 things ours was going to go shy of) had double booked and the party had to be shunted on a week. Into July. I decided to forego invitations.

But just deciding who to have forced problems to bob to the surface. Friends aren’t that simple. It used to be that you knew people or didn’t know them. I have 200 names on my mobile phone but I scrolled through muttering, “no, no, maybe, no.”

To cull numbers further (the merry hostess admits) we ditched anyone long distance. They might want to stay. Can you imagine anything worse? Than friends staying? Sheets. Small talk over croissant served in the debris of day old dead brie and evil glasses sticky with the night before. All the hot water going. Besides they wouldn’t know anyone. It would be an unkindness.
We closed tired eyes to the notion of having anyone from school, to eager huddles discussing the 11+.
There was a quorum from the village beyond the ones we like whom we were obliged to have – and when you have X there’s always a Y and a Z too. So we set the party date in close sight and luckily lost a few to a wedding and some more to the summer holidays.

Around this time the weather started changing. The endless Enid Blyton summer got bored and the wind moved in.

I panicked, and thought, “Why don’t I...” (a close cousin of Let’s) “Why don’t I … make some bunting?” Within seconds, elderly knees were busy creaking up the attic ladder and years of dust and 7 bags of ancient fabric came crashing down with me a mere sneeze behind.
Do not be fooled. Bunting is not “a few triangles sewn together and put on a string.”
The West Wind woke up. The acceptances came flooding in. E said, “Have you thought about food?”

Bunting is, in fact, an hour’s ironing, a day’s cutting out and pinning – well, it is when suddenly you are a 101 triangles in through fabric choice paralysis … if I have just this and this … oh and this (calling for 202 backs and fronts). The kitchen disappeared under piles of material.

The North Wind thought, “Might as well …” and bashed at the newly planted borders and E said, “Where are we going to put all the drink?”

Bunting is several hours on the sewing machine cursing and kicking as the wretched thing prats about with self-important tension issues and needle snapping; anyone would think I should run to a service after 30 years of ownership.

E was not impressed. But what he failed to understand is that 80 people’s not that many people to feed, not really, not when the bunting was assuming a life of its own. Displacement activity he called it. Can you believe?

To keep the peace I had to make bad tempered forays into the kitchen to cook. We didn’t want anything approaching plates and knives and forks. Mouthfuls only, there was to be no post-party broaching of teetering piles, separating gummy plates, fags in the butter, fingering abandoned cutlery stiff with smeary somethings. So I chopped and whirred and 100 little mini quiches (mushroom duxelley stuff; asparagus and parmesan) emerged and baby toads in the hole and weeny pizza-ettes and tiny goats’ cheese and cranberry soufflés. The best bit was a pleasing hour in Lakeland resulting in a happy shopper bent double under 3-for-2 baking trays. A friend lent a fridge. Everyone needs a friend with a spare fridge.

And then the stringing.
The East Wind moved a little nearer.
I dyed the stringing tape bright zinging pink. Foolishly, I didn’t wear gloves. And then ironed the tape, all 150 feet of it, down the long skinny middle, edging mountains of cheese straws out of the greasy way. E fretted about the effect of the sun (ha!) on the beer. I pinned and pinned.

The day came, my shoulders ached through being hunched over the machine, my lobster hands throbbed through a bain marie incident and a run in with the iron, and I eyed the sky in pain and nervous defiance.

With six hours to go on the Saturday, we decided we needed an iPod player to play our ancient, but never used (couldn’t face learning how) iPod. We found a real bargain within ten minutes but it seemed a good idea to go and check out 3 other shops before returning to the first place; the only surprise being that there was actually one last one left, rather than missing it by dumb moments. How often is one treated to such serendipity?

Back home, the oil cloth flapped on the trestle table, the bunting strained and tugged at the guttering, the platters I’d thought were under the hob were actually inaccessibly behind the borrowed fridge.

The weather was behaving like a child at a wedding: OK, just about, sort of getting away with it, but pissing you off at the same time. 2 friends called, along the lines of, “Do you want to borrow a gazebo, it’s a bit dusty but …” I resisted, without screaming. It was all a massive strain on the patience just as the rain itself strained at the leash of the glowering clouds.

Was fast all hummus and olive’d out and headachey from eyeing the sky with such grave concern. It mocked me with sudden gusts of wind and flurries of clouds but no actual wet stuff. “Four hours,” said E shunting crap off a sideboard and into an open drawer.

We set off for Tesco for the glasses (free hire!) with misplaced confidence, a sign the rain took to prompt gently the windscreen wipers into play. In the queue, a troublesome neighbour, a duty invite, who mercifully couldn’t come – interminable unnecessary explanation involving a lesbian niece – sidled up to me, “What are you going to do if it rains, Milla?” he wheedled, a delighted smile playing at the corner of his mouth.

Fuck off you old fuck, I thought, “Nothing,” I said, desperate for a random, aerial source of intravenous gin, that and a sledgehammer.

A party gains its own impetus. Plates were dropped off. Mini everything, Hunca Munca but yumtastic, no shards of plaster. My chums came up trumps. A dozen or so of them came bearing offerings. I started to worry that there was going to be far too much food and foresaw myself flung face first in a bowl of salsa sucking desperately to show that it was wanted.
The dog walkers en masse revealed a worrying inclination to bosomy puddings – delicious tiny meringues with splodges of raspberry atop wobbles of cream a favourite. There were dips and canapés and fudge and focaccio, and spicy popcorn. Mrs Very Rich got the gold star for lending magazine-esque levels of goodies: glass bottles with flip lids for water, pails for pinks, baskets lined in Glass towels for casual loveliness and staggering in laden with Michelin standard lovelies and champers and a present. Ditch fridge owning friends; everyone needs a Mrs Very Rich as their friend.

The sun edged out of hiding and the wind buggered off.

Shame was that guests had to come along and ruin it all, really. The pleasure, such as it was, I now realised, had lain in the planning and the anticipation and to be stilled in aspic in a moment of never quite arriving would be a pleasant state of affairs.

At ten to 8 I rushed upstairs and donned some odd thing I’d bought in an All Saints sale at Gatwick airport at 6 in the morning in January and spent all night shedding tiny sequins, and E wore his running shorts and dinner jacket. He has good legs. Strong men carried out the good-looking but crap sofa and everyone arrived at once bringing on an attack of quite extraordinary nerves. A glass of wine did nothing to quell the anxiety and I thought, what a shame. Were I to go to a party and see this lot I would be thrilled but, somehow, in my own house it did nothing but occasion extreme dread.

What’s to say? It went really well. Apparently. Good noise levels. Packed.
No spats, no sulks, no sobs and no-one threw up in a plant pot. Making it sound rather dull really; all I can offer in the disaster stakes is a woman (wearing white) a victim of a mobile glass of red wine.
I started enjoying it at about 1 in the morning.
The food was snaffled up and pronounced delicious; there was a long session of shame at the bottle bank next day. The thank yous have been touching. Lots of nice people brought presents.

But, say it slowly, and clearly, and loudly: Never Again. Ever. Let’s Just Not.