Matthew Bell: Rant & Rave (09/01/11)

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The Independent Online


Well, I'm glad that's over. Last week I had 10 for lunch. It was meant to be a low-key affair, just a few friends and a roast pheasant. What better way to spend a Bank Holiday Monday? But there must be something about the host-guest dynamic that encourages normally well-behaved friends to toss the rulebook out of the window.

It all began to fall apart when two of them turned up half an hour early. Surely there is no single breach of etiquette more passive-aggressive than to ting-a-ling a doorbell when your host is elbow-deep in raw parsnips? OK, so I should have stuck to the dinner party rule of keeping it simple, but pheasants are cheap at this time of year, and I had always wanted to have a go at Elizabeth David's recipe for potato gratin dauphinoise. Then one of them brings a dog, knowing I have a cat. Sure enough, cartoon mayhem ensued. The dog then peed on the carpet. Someone smashed a glass. And we hadn't even sat down to lunch. The good news is that they must have enjoyed themselves, as, eight hours later, we were all still there. The Spectator's agony aunt recently advised a correspondent who dreads dinner parties only to accept lunch invitations, as you can leave after an hour and a half. But, as host, I was trapped. Next time I'll do a tea. What could possibly go wrong over cucumber sandwiches?


Charles Moore caused a flurry among etiquette-observers when he said he wasn't bothering with Christmas cards any more. What's the point, said the usually fogeyish ex-Telegraph editor, when an email will do? While it's true that sending a card is pointless if you don't have a more meaningful exchange in the subsequent 12 months, his argument sets a dangerous precedent. Because the highlight of my year so far came on Thursday, when I got home to find six handwritten thank-you letters on my doormat. My lunch guests may have behaved badly at the time, but their after-sales service is impeccable. For some things, technology just won't do. All is now forgiven.