(Or how I learned to stop worrying and love unpasteurised cheese)
I’m guessing you’ve seen the old drawing about the two paths a girl’s life can take –either virtue or dissolution. Well, it turns out there’s a boy’s path too. And while I really didn’t expect either image to have a “clubbing, ketamine and co-dependent relationship with drug addict” phase (although a modern version might) I definitely think both images are missing something from the virtuous path: the dinner party.
At first, I thought the arrival of dinner parties in my life was a sign of creeping old age. Then I thought it was a reaction to the £4 pint. Sure, young people don’t go out any more. But who wants to sit in the living room with a four pack of Skol?
Then I realised my descent into the world of dinner parties was far more sinister. Lots of other twenty seven, twenty eight, twenty nine year olds are going out clubbing, taking ketamine, and stealing shoes. I’m not. That’s when it hit me. Far from being on the road to ruin, I’m on the railroad to respectability.
All aboard: why do people switch tracks?
It’s funny. Most of the people I knew from my teens and early twenties who were into hard house or spiral techno or sticking acid up their bottoms are much happier these days ‘unwinding with a glass of wine after work’ — while the work hard, study hard contingent have discovered the ‘work hard, play hard’ lifestyle, pulling 14 hour days with ritalin, going out on a gramme, knocking back a couple of valium to help them sleep. Good luck to them.
I don’t really fit into any of these categories. In fact, I’m a nightmare dinner party guest, because as a robot-like INTJ, I’ve never learned how to do small talk. Which means if you’re lucky, I’ll bore you to death about work. Or I’ll sit in the corner silently. If you’re unlucky, I’ll pick up on one of your opinions and start an argument with you.
This weekend, for example, I had dinner with a champagne socialist. He wound me up so much at the end of the dinner I found myself saying “You believe in redistribution of income, fine. You earn twice as much as I do, you’re paying for half of my dinner.”
Saturday night was a little better. Mainly because it was completely unplanned. I’d arranged to meet up with an old uni friend for a pint (to chat about work!). ‘Oh, xxxxx is having a party,’ he said. ‘Bring a bottle.’
What he didn’t tell me was that the evening was a wine-and-canapes tasting evening. Some people had spent a whole week researching their choices. So naturally I showed up with a dusty bottle of corner shop wine that had invariably been kept next to a radiator for the last six years. Luckily, we all saw the funny side.
“When he said bring a bottle,” I joked, “you’re all lucky I didn’t bring gin.”
I’ve averaged a dinner party a week so far this year. And while my investigation is unscientific, I can definitely suggest there’s anecdotal (pun intended) evidence to suggest that dinner party conversation is, 9 times out of 10, about one thing: food.
What do people talk about at dinner parties?
If it’s bad form to talk work and even worse form to talk politics, what’s left? One doesn’t discuss the x-factor, my big fat trailer trash wedding, or whatever else it is the lumpenproleteriat are discussing in the dole queue this week. So you go for the obvious and talk about food.
Recently, I got in a half hour debate about whether or not putting a stone with home baked bread improved the flavour. And I had a rather earnest discussion about whether or not rhubarb crumble was comfort food or a real dessert.
It seems every dinner party needs a centrepiece. Maybe because people realise how intrinsically dull they are. At one recent event, the host took out her milk snake and let it writhe around the table. Oh, how we laughed when it went up one of the guests’ skirts. Well, it’s better than talking about the thousands of innocent civilians getting slaughtered in Libya.
I started to wish I was getting slaughtered myself.
This weekend, the centrepiece was an unpasteurised, potentially lethal cheese. The centre oozed out of the protective rind like pus from the open wound of a repressed Tunisian citizen. Bravely, I grabbed a bit of brioche and dived right in. And I have to admit, it was pretty delicious.
I do still find myself yearning for the old days. We used to have dinner parties back then, only they’d be held around midnight and various lunatics would drop in through the course of the night, usually wired on one drug or another. They rarely ate the food, but at least they made interesting conversation.
And that’s when it hit me. I asked myself — where are they now, those crazy people? Well, they’re: not holding down jobs, they’re in and out of mental hospitals, they’re dating other crazy people, stealing shoes, making a mess out of the rest of their lives.
And suddenly I breathe a sigh of relief. When you put it that way, spending the rest of my life making small talk around the dinner table doesn’t seem so bad after all.
Al Allday is a freelance copywriter based in London.