Lisa Markwell: Let's not abandon the dinner party – how else can I catch up on real gossip?

Notebook

Share

One glance at the dirty dishes after a mid-week dinner party and it would be easy to agree with the YouGov survey announced yesterday that 40 per cent of us can't face the hassle or expense. After a dash home from work to tidy up, lay the table and throw together a shepherd's pie (homespun end result but with laborious preparation, which I always forget), by 10.30pm I'm wishing my guests would bugger off so I could go to bed. Then there's the clearing up...

For all that, there's something rather dispiriting about the idea of people across Britain sitting quietly in their kitchens, eating alone, as the age of the dinner party passes into history. Dinner parties – whether formal affairs with placements and tablecloths, cheese courses and decanters – or the more modern embodiment, the "kitchen supper", are part of the fabric of society. Without them the social discourse disappears. Yes, we can follow our friends on Twitter to catch their witty verdict on The Bridge, and we can see their holiday snaps on Facebook, but there's no satisfactory replacement for actual, you know, conversation; the kind that meanders around from the local book festival to movie gossip to politics.

OK, so that mid-week dinner party at my house was disproportionately high on school-in-special-measures-shocker and the shoes that have just gone on sale at Zara, but it was catching up with friends that really mattered.

The cost is a legitimate anxiety. The survey states that the average dinner party costs £60 and most of us hold six of them a year. My own profligacy/show-off tendencies put me at the upper end of their stats, I reckon, but there's no doubt that everyone – apart from the most haute of hostesses – is feeling the pinch. My own solution is to use Sunday's leftover roast lamb for the shepherd's pie and buy wine when it's on special offer and tuck it away.

I do agree that performance anxiety gets the better of many would-be hosts. With wall-to-wall cookery shows on TV, who'd want to present their pasta with pesto in front of an ardent Great British Menu fan? But those shows are entertainment, not how-to videos. It'd be a very strange guest expecting salmon and caviar rolls with candied celery.

I once met Jamie Oliver and, on my husband's instructions, invited him round for dinner, on the assumption that no one else does. Sure enough, he says he never does get asked round, because everyone thinks their food isn't good enough.

But that's the point – dinner parties aren't actually about the food at all. Some of the best ones revolve around a large bowl of Doritos and a jug of mojitos; which is stretching the term dinner party to its limits, I agree, but it was a top night. I still want people to Come Dine with Me – not least because my children learnt to converse – which they do brilliantly – watching the grown-ups at our dinner table.

Don't let anyone steal your stories

Today is the funeral of a dear friend's father. John Dyson was a writer whose accounts of adventurers, particularly in the polar regions, were always absorbing and incisive; it's worth searching out his book The South Seas Dream: an Adventure in Paradise.

A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, he loved nothing more than intrepid journeys to far-away places, notebook in hand. He wasn't particularly famous but he was an inspiration for quite a few journalists of my acquaintance (not least me).

I learnt one hack's trick from him the hard way. On his daughter's wedding day, when I, as maid of honour, was rehearsing my speech in the study at the family home, John came in, to read through his father-of-the-bride speech. "Ah, Lisa," he said in his soft New Zealand tones, "you don't mind if I use a couple of those stories in my speech, do you?" I was, as they say, speechless. And I never made that mistake again.

l.markwell@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Etch, a Sketch

Jane Merrick
 

Something wrong with the Conservative Party’s game plan

John Rentoul
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing